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Arthur Machen 

Title: The Three Impostors (1895) Author: Arthur Machen 

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Title: The Three Impostors (1895) Author: Arthur Machen 




'And Mr Joseph Walters is going to stay the night?' said the smooth, 
clean-shaven man to his companion, an individual not of the most charming 
appearance, who had chosen to make his ginger-coloured moustache merge 
into a pair of short chin- whiskers. 

The two stood at the hall door, grinning evilly at each other; and presently a 
girl ran quickly down the stairs and joined them. She was quite young, with 
a quaint and piquant rather than a beautiful face, and her eyes were of a 
shining hazel. She held a neat paper parcel in one hand, and laughed with 
her friends. 

'Leave the door open,' said the smooth man to the other, as they were going 

out. 'Yes, by ,' he went on with an ugly oath, 'we'll leave the front door 

on the jar. He may like to see company, you know.' 

The other man looked doubtfully about him. 

'Is it quite prudent, do you think, Davies?' he said, pausing with his hand on 
the mouldering knocker. 'I don't think Lipsius would like it. What do you 
say, Helen?' 

'I agree with Davies. Davies is an artist, and you are commonplace, 
Richmond, and a bit of a coward. Let the door stand open, of course. But 
what a pity Lipsius had to go away! He would have enjoyed himself.' 

'Yes,' replied the smooth Mr Davies, 'that summons to the west was very 
hard on the doctor.' 

The three passed out, leaving the hall door, cracked and riven with frost and 
wet, half open, and they stood silent for a moment under the ruinous shelter 
of the porch. 

'Well,' said the girl, 'it is done at last. We shall hurry no more on the track 
of the young man with spectacles.' 

'We owe a great deal to you,' said Mr Davies politely; 'the doctor said so 
before he left. But having we not all three some farewells to make? I, for 
my part propose to say good-bye here, before this picturesque but mouldy 
residence, to my friend, Mr Burton, dealer in the antique and curious,' and 
the man lifted his hat with an exaggerated bow. 

'And I,' said Richmond, 'bid adieu to Mr Wilkins the private secretary, 
whose company has, I confess become a little tedious.' 

'Farewell to Miss Lally, and to Miss Leicester also,' said the girl, making as 
she spoke a delicious curtsy. 'Farewell to all occult adventure; the farce is 

Mr Davies and the lady seemed full of grim enjoyment, but Richmond 
tugged at his whiskers nervously. 

'I feel a bit shaken up,' he said. I've seen rougher things in the States, but 
that crying noise he made gave me a sickish feeling. And then the smell; 
but then my stomach was never very strong.' 

The three friends moved away from the door, and began to walk slowly up 
and down what had been a gravel path, but now lay green and pulpy with 
damp mosses. It was a fine autumn evening, and a faint sunlight shone on 
the yellow walls of the old deserted house, and showed the patches of 
gangrenous decay, the black drift of rain from the broken pipes, the 
scabrous blots where the bare bricks were exposed, the green weeping of a 
gaunt laburnum that stood beside the porch, and ragged marks near the 
ground where the reeking clay was gaining on the worn foundations. It was 
a queer, rambling old place, the centre perhaps two hundred years old, with 
dormer windows sloping from the tiled roof, and on each side there were 
Georgian wings; bow windows had been carried up to the first floor, and 
two dome-like cupolas that had once been painted a bright green were now 
grey and neutral. Broken urns lay upon the path, and a heavy mist seemed 
to rise from the unctuous clay; the neglected shrubberies, grown all tangled 
and unshapen, smelt dank and evil, and there was an atmosphere all about 
the deserted mansion that proposed thoughts of an opened grave. The three 
friends looked dismally at the rough grasses and the nettles that grew thick 
over lawn and flowerbeds; and at the sad water-pool in the midst of the 
weeds. There, above green and oily scum instead of lilies, stood a rusting 
Triton on the rocks, sounding a dirge through a shattered horn; and beyond, 
beyond the sunk fence and the far meadows, the sun slid down and shone 
red through the bars of the elm-trees. 

Richmond shivered and stamped his foot. 

'We had better be going soon,' he said; 'there is nothing else to be done 

'No,' said Davies; 'it is finished at last. I thought for some time we should 
never get hold of the gentleman with the spectacles. He was a clever fellow, 
but, Lord! he broke up badly at last. I can tell you, he looked white at me 
when I touched him on the arm in the bar. But where could he have hidden 
the thing? We can all swear it was not on him.' 

The girl laughed, and they turned away, when Richmond gave a violent 

'Ah!' he cried, turning to the girl, 'what have you got there? Look, Davies, 
look; it's all oozing and dripping.' 

The young woman glanced down at the little parcel she was carrying, and 
partially unfolded the paper. 

'Yes, look, both of you,' she said; 'it's my own idea. Don't you think it will 
do nicely for the doctor's museum? It comes from the right hand, the hand 
that took the Gold Tiberius.' 

Mr Davies nodded with a good deal of approbation, and Richmond lifted 
his ugly high-crowned bowler, and wiped his forehead with a dingy 

'I'm going,' he said; 'you two can stay if you like.' 

The three went round by the stable-path, past the withered wilderness of the 
old kitchen-garden, and struck off by a hedge at the back, making for a 
particular point in the road. About five minutes later two gentlemen, whom 
idleness had led to explore these forgotten outskirts of London, came 
sauntering up the shadowy carriage-drive. They had spied the deserted 
house from the road, and as they observed all the heavy desolation of the 
place, they began to moralize in the great style, with considerable debts to 
Jeremy Taylor. 

'Look, Dyson,' said the one, as they drew nearer; 'look at those upper 
windows; the sun is setting, and, though the panes are dusty, yet - 

The grimy sash an oriel burns.' 

'Phillipps,' replied the elder and (it must be said) the more pompous of the 
two, 'I yield to fantasy; I cannot withstand the influence of the grotesque. 
Here, where all is falling into dimness and dissolution, and we walk in 
cedarn gloom, and the very air of heaven goes mouldering to the lungs, I 
cannot remain commonplace. I look at that deep glow on the panes, and the 
house lies all enchanted; that very room, I tell you, is within all blood and 


The acquaintance between Mr Dyson and Mr Charles Phillipps arose from 
one of those myriad chances which are every day doing their work in the 
streets of London. Mr Dyson was a man of letters, and an unhappy instance 
of talents misapplied. With gifts that might have placed him in the flower 
of his youth among the most favoured of Bentley's favourite novelists, he 
had chosen to be perverse; he was, it is true, familiar with scholastic logic, 
but he knew nothing of the logic of life, and he flattered himself with the 
title of artist, when he was in fact but an idle and curious spectator of other 
men's endeavours. Amongst many delusions, he cherished one most fondly, 
that he was a strenuous worker; and it was with a gesture of supreme 
weariness that he would enter his favourite resort, a small tobacco-shop in 
Great Queen Street, and proclaim to anyone who cared to listen that he had 
seen the rising and setting of two successive suns. The proprietor of the 
shop, a middle-aged man of singular civility, tolerated Dyson partly out of 
good nature, and partly because he was a regular customer. He was allowed 
to sit on an empty cask, and to express his sentiments on literary and artistic 
matters till he was tired, or the time for closing came; and if no fresh 
customers were attracted, it is believed that none were turned away by his 
eloquence. Dyson was addicted to wild experiments in tobacco; he never 
wearied of trying new combinations; and one evening he had just entered 
the shop, and given utterance to his last preposterous formula, when a 
young fellow of about his own age, who had come in a moment later, asked 
the shopman to duplicate the order on his account, smiling politely, as he 
spoke, to Mr Dyson's address. Dyson felt profoundly flattered, and after a 

few phrases the two entered into conversation, and in an hour's time the 
tobacconist saw the new friends sitting side by side on a couple of casks, 
deep in talk. 

'My dear sir,' said Dyson, 'I will give you the task of the literary man in a 
phrase. He has got to do simply this - to invent a wonderful story, and to 
tell it in a wonderful manner.' 

'I will grant you that,' said Mr Phillipps, 'but you will allow me to insist that 
in the hands of the true artist in words all stories are marvellous and every 
circumstance has its peculiar wonder. The matter is of little consequence; 
the manner is everything. Indeed, the highest skill is shown in taking matter 
apparently commonplace and transmuting it by the high alchemy of style 
into the pure gold of art.' 

'That is indeed a proof of great skill, but it is great skill exerted foolishly, or 
at least unadvisedly. It is as if a great violinist were to show us what 
marvellous harmonies he could draw from a child's banjo.' 

'No, no, you are really wrong. I see you take a radically mistaken view of 
life. But we must thresh this out. Come to my rooms; I live not far from 

It was thus that Mr Dyson became the associate of Mr Charles Phillipps, 
who lived in a quiet square not far from Holborn. Thenceforth they haunted 
each other's rooms at intervals, sometimes regular, and occasionally the 
reverse, and made appointments to meet at the shop in Queen Street, where 
their talk robbed the tobacconist's profit of half its charm. There was a 
constant jarring of literary formulas, Dyson exalting the claims of the pure 
imagination; while Phillipps, who was a student of physical science and 
something of an ethnologist, insisted that all literature ought to have a 
scientific basis. By the mistaken benevolence of deceased relatives both 
young men were placed out of reach of hunger, and so, meditating high 
achievements, idled their time pleasantly away, and revelled in the careless 
joys of a Bohemianism devoid of the sharp seasoning of adversity. 

One night in June Mr Phillipps was sitting in his room in the calm 
retirement of Red Lion Square. He had opened the window, and was 
smoking placidly, while he watched the movement of life below. The sky 
was clear, and the afterglow of sunset had lingered long about it. The 
flushing twilight of a summer evening vied with the gas-lamps in the 
square, and fashioned a chiaroscuro that had in it something unearthly; and 
the children, racing to and fro upon the pavement, the lounging idlers by 
the public-house, and the casual passers-by rather flickered and hovered in 
the play of lights than stood out substantial things. By degrees in the houses 
opposite one window after another leapt out a square of light; now and 
again a figure would shape itself against a blind and vanish, and to all this 
semi-theatrical magic the runs and flourishes of brave Italian opera played a 
little distance off on a piano-organ seemed an appropriate accompaniment, 
while the deep-muttered bass of the traffic of Holborn never ceased. 
Phillipps enjoyed the scene and its effects; the light in the sky faded and 
turned to darkness, and the square gradually grew silent, and still he sat 
dreaming at the window, till the sharp peal of the house-bell roused him, 
and looking at his watch, he found that it was past ten o'clock. There was a 
knock at the door, and his friend Mr Dyson entered, and, according to his 
custom, sat down in an arm-chair and began to smoke in silence. 

'You know, Phillipps,' he said at length, 'that I have always battled for the 
marvellous. I remember your maintaining in that chair that one has no 
business to make use of the wonderful, the improbable, the odd coincidence 
in literature, and you took the ground that it was wrong to do so, because as 
a matter of fact the wonderful and the improbable don't happen, and men's 
lives are not really shaped by odd coincidence. Now, mind you, if that were 
so, I would not grant your conclusion, because I think the "criticism-of-life" 
theory is all nonsense; but I deny your premiss. A most singular thing has 
happened to me to-night.' 

'Really, Dyson, I am very glad to hear it. Of course, I oppose your 
argument, whatever it may be; but if you would be good enough to tell me 
of your adventure, I should be delighted.' 

'Well, it came about like this. I have had a very hard day's work; indeed I 
have scarcely moved from my old bureau since seven o'clock last night. I 
wanted to work out that idea we discussed last Tuesday, you know, the 
notion of the fetish worshipper?' 

'Yes, I remember. Have you been able to do anything with it?' 

'Yes; it came out better than I expected; but there were great difficulties, the 
usual agony between the conception and the execution. Anyhow, I got it 
done about seven o'clock tonight, and I thought I should like a little of the 
fresh air. I went out and wandered rather aimlessly about the streets; my 
head was full of my tale, and I didn't much notice where I was going. I got 
into those quiet places to the north of Oxford Street as you go west, the 
genteel residential neighbourhood of stucco and prosperity. I turned east 
again without knowing it, and it was quite dark when I passed along a 
sombre little by-street, ill-lighted and empty. I did not know at the time in 
the least where I was, but I found out afterwards that it was not very far 
from Tottenham Court Road. I strolled idly along, enjoying the stillness; on 
one side there seemed to be the back premises of some great shop; tier after 
tier of dusty windows lifted up into the night, with gibbet-like contrivances 
for raising heavy goods, and below large doors, fast closed and bolted, all 
dark and desolate. Then there came a huge pantechnicon warehouse; and 
over the way a grim blank wall, as forbidding as the wall of a gaol, and 
then the headquarters of some volunteer regiment, and afterwards a passage 
leading to a court where waggons were standing to be hired; it was, one 
might almost say, a street devoid of inhabitants, and scarce a window 
showed the glimmer of a light. I was wondering at the strange peace and 
dimness there, where it must be close to some roaring main artery of 
London life, when suddenly I heard the noise of dashing feet tearing along 
the pavement at full speed, and from a narrow passage, a mews or 
something of that kind, a man was discharged as from a catapult under my 
very nose, and rushed past me, flinging something from him as he ran. He 
was gone, and down another street in an instant, almost before I knew what 
had happened; but I didn't much bother about him, I was watching 
something else. I told you he had thrown something away; well, I watched 
what seemed a line of flame flash through the air and fly quivering over the 


pavement, and in spite of myself I could not help tearing after it. The 
impetus lessened, and I saw something like a bright halfpenny roll slower 
and slower, and then deflect towards the gutter, hover for a moment on the 
edge, and dance down into a drain. I believe I cried out in positive despair, 
though I hadn't the least notion what I was hunting; and then, to my joy, I 
saw that, instead of dropping into a sewer, it had fallen flat across two bars. 
I stooped down and picked it up and whipped it into my pocket, and I was 
just about to walk on when I heard again that sound of dashing footsteps. I 
don't know why I did it, but as a matter of fact I dived down into the mews, 
or whatever it was, and stood as much in the shadow as possible. A man 
went by with a rush a few paces from where I was standing, and I felt 
uncommonly pleased that I was in hiding. I couldn't make out much 
feature, but I saw his eyes gleaming and his teeth showing, and he had an 
ugly-looking knife in one hand, and I thought things would be very 
unpleasant for gentleman number one if the second robber or what you like, 
caught him up. I can tell you, Phillipps, a fox-hunt is exciting enough, when 
the horn blows clear on a winter morning, and the hounds give tongue, and 
the red-coats charge away, but it's nothing to a man-hunt, and that's what I 
had a slight glimpse of tonight. There was murder in the fellow's eyes as he 
went by, and I don't think there was much more than fifty seconds between 
the two. I only hope it was enough.' 

Dyson leant back in his arm-chair, relit his pipe, and puffed thoughtfully. 
Phillipps began to walk up and down the room, musing over the story of 
violent death fleeting in chase along the pavement, the knife shining in the 
lamplight, the fury of the pursuer, and the terror of the pursued. 

'Well,' he said at last, 'and what was it, after all, that you rescued from the 

Dyson jumped up, evidently quite startled. 'I really haven't a notion. I didn't 
think of looking. But we shall see.' 

He fumbled in his waistcoat pocket, drew out a small and shining object, 
and laid it on the table. It glowed there beneath the lamp with the radiant 
glory of rare old gold; and the image and the letters stood out in high relief, 


clear and sharp, as if it had but left the mint a month before. The two men 
bent over it, and Phillipps took it up and examined it closely. 

'Imp. Tiberius Caesar Augustus,' he read the legend, and then looking at the 
reverse of the coin, he stared in amazement, and at last turned to Dyson 
with a look of exultation. 

'Do you know what you have found?' he said. 

'Apparently a gold coin of some antiquity,' said Dyson coolly. 

'Quite so, a gold Tiberius. No, that is wrong. You have found the gold 
Tiberius. Look at the reverse.' 

Dyson looked and saw the coin was stamped with the figure of a faun 
standing amidst reeds and flowing water. The features, minute as they 
were, stood out in delicate outline; it was a face lovely and yet terrible, and 
yet Dyson thought of the well-known passage of the lad's playmate, 
gradually growing with his growth and increasing with his stature, till the 
air was filled with the rank fume of the goat. 

'Yes,' he said; 'it is a curious coin. Do you know it?' 

'I know about it. It is one of the comparatively few historical objects in 
existence; it is all storied like those jewels we have read of. A whole cycle 
of legend has gathered round the thing; the tale goes that it formed part of 
an issue struck by Tiberius to commemorate an infamous excess. You see 
the legend on the reverse: "Victoria". It is said that by an extraordinary 
accident the whole issue was thrown into the melting-pot, and that only this 
one coin escaped. It glints through history and legend, appearing and 
disappearing, with intervals of a hundred years in time, and continents in 
place. It was "discovered" by an Italian humanist, and lost and 
rediscovered. It has not been heard of since 1727, when Sir Joshua Byrde, a 
Turkey merchant, brought it home from Aleppo, and vanished with it a 
month after he had shown it to the virtuosi, no man knew or knows where. 
And here it is!' 


'Put it into your pocket, Dyson,' he said, after a pause. 'I would not let 
anyone have a glimpse of the thing if I were you. I would not talk about it. 
Did either of the men you saw see you?' 

'Well, I think not. I don't think the first man, the man who was vomited out 
of the dark passage, saw anything at all; and I am sure that he could not 
have seen me.' 

'And you didn't really see them. You couldn't recognize either the one or 
the other if you met him in the street to-morrow?' 

'No, I don't think I could. The street, as I said, was dimly lighted, and they 
ran like madmen.' 

The two men sat silent for some time, each weaving his own fancies of the 
story; but lust of the marvellous was slowly overpowering Dyson's more 
sober thoughts. 

'It is all more strange than I fancied,' he said at last. 'It was queer enough 
what I saw; a man is sauntering along a quiet, sober, everyday London 
street, a street of grey houses and blank walls, and there, for a moment, a 
veil seems drawn aside, and the very fume of the pit steams up through the 
flagstones, the ground glows, red-hot, beneath his feet, and he seems to 
hear the hiss of the infernal caldron. A man flying in mad terror for his life, 
and furious hate pressing hot on his steps with knife drawn ready; here, 
indeed, is horror; but what is all that to what you have told me? I tell you, 
Phillipps, I see the plot thicken; our steps will henceforth be dogged with 
mystery, and the most ordinary incidents will teem with significance. You 
may stand out against it, and shut your eyes, but they will be forced open; 
mark my words, you will have to yield to the inevitable. A clue, tangled if 
you like, has been placed by chance in our hands; it will be our business to 
follow it up. As for the guilty person or persons in this strange case, they 
will be unable to escape us, our nets will be spread far and wide over this 
great city, and suddenly, in the streets and places of public resort, we shall 
in some way or other be made aware that we are in touch with the unknown 
criminal. Indeed I almost fancy I see him slowly approaching this quiet 


square of yours; he is loitering at street corners, wandering, apparently 
without aim, down far-reaching thoroughfares, but all the while coming 
nearer and nearer, drawn by an irresistible magnetism, as ships were drawn 
to the Loadstone Rock in the Eastern tale.' 

'I certainly think,' replied Phillipps, 'that if you pull out that coin and 
flourish it under people's noses as you are doing at the present moment, you 
will very probably find yourself in touch with the criminal, or a criminal. 
You will undoubtedly be robbed with violence. Otherwise, I see no reason 
why either of us should be troubled. No one saw you secure the coin, and 
no one knows you have it. I, for my part, shall sleep peacefully, and go 
about my business with a sense of security and a firm dependence on the 
natural order of things. The events of the evening, the adventure in the 
street, have been odd, I grant you, but I resolutely decline to have any more 
to do with the matter, and, if necessary, I shall consult the police. I will not 
be enslaved by a gold Tiberius, even though it swims into my ken in a 
manner which is somewhat melodramatic' 

'And I, for my part,' said Dyson, 'go forth like a knight-errant in search of 
adventure. Not that I shall need to seek; rather adventure will seek me; I 
shall be like a spider in the midst of his web, responsive to every 
movement, and ever on the alert.' 

Shortly afterwards Dyson took his leave, and Mr Phillipps spent the rest of 
the night in examining some flint arrow-heads which he had purchased. He 
had every reason to believe that they were the work of a modern and not a 
palaeolithic man; still he was far from gratified when a close scrutiny 
showed him that his suspicions were well founded. In his anger at the 
turpitude which would impose on an ethnologist, he completely forgot 
Dyson and the gold Tiberius; and when he went to bed at first sunlight, the 
whole tale had faded utterly from his thoughts. 


Mr Dyson, walking leisurely along Oxford Street, and staring with bland 
inquiry at whatever caught his attention, enjoyed in all its rare flavours the 


sensation that he was really very hard at work. His observation of mankind, 
the traffic, and the shop windows tickled his faculties with an exquisite 
bouquet; he looked serious, as one looks on whom charges of weight and 
moment are laid; and he was attentive in his glances to right and left, for 
fear lest he should miss some circumstance of more acute significance. He 
had narrowly escaped being run over at a crossing by a charging van, for he 
hated to hurry his steps, and indeed the afternoon was warm; and he had 
just halted by a place of popular refreshment, when the astounding gestures 
of a well-dressed individual on the opposite pavement held him enchanted 
and gasping like a fish. A treble line of hansoms, carriages, vans, cabs, and 
omnibuses was tearing east and west, and not the most daring adventurer of 
the crossings would have cared to try his fortune; but the person who had 
attracted Dyson's attention seemed to rage on the very edge of the 
pavement, now and then darting forward at the hazard of instant death, and 
at each repulse absolutely dancing with excitement, to the rich amusement 
of the passers-by. At last a gap that would have tried the courage of a 
street-boy appeared between the serried lines of vehicles, and the man 
rushed across in a frenzy, and escaping by a hair's-breadth, pounced upon 
Dyson as a tiger pounces on her prey. 

T saw you looking about you,' he said, sputtering out his words in his 
intense eagerness; 'would you mind telling me this! Was the man who came 
out of the Aerated Bread Shop and jumped into the hansom three minutes 
ago a youngish-looking man with dark whiskers and spectacles? Can't you 
speak, man? For heaven's sake, can't you speak? Answer me; it's a matter of 
life and death.' 

The words bubbled and boiled out of the man's mouth in the fury of his 
emotion, his face went from red to white, and the beads of sweat stood out 
on his forehead; he stamped his feet as he spoke, and tore with his hand at 
his coat, as if something swelled and choked him, stopping the passage of 
his breath. 

'My dear sir,' said Dyson, 'I always like to be accurate. Your observation 
was perfectly correct. As you say, a youngish man — a man, I should say, of 
somewhat timid bearing - ran rapidly out of the shop here, and bounced 


into a hansom that must have been waiting for him, as it went eastwards at 
once. Your friend also wore spectacles, as you say. Perhaps you would like 
me to call a hansom for you to follow the gentleman?' 

'No, thank you; it would be a waste of time.' The man gulped down 
something which appeared to rise in his throat, and Dyson was alarmed to 
see him shaking with hysterical laughter; he clung hard to a lamp-post, and 
swayed and staggered like a ship in a heavy gale. 

'How shall I face the doctor?' he murmured to himself. 'It is too hard to fail 
at the last moment.' Then he seemed to recollect himself; he stood straight 
again, and looked quietly at Dyson. 

'I owe you an apology for my violence,' he said at last. 'Many men would 
not be so patient as you have been. Would you mind adding to your 
kindness by walking with me a little way? I feel a little sick; I think it's the 

Dyson nodded assent, and devoted himself to a quiet scrutiny of this 
strange personage as they moved on together. The man was dressed in quiet 
taste, and the most scrupulous observer could find nothing amiss with the 
fashion or make of his clothes; yet, from his hat to his boots, everything 
seemed inappropriate. His silk hat, Dyson thought, should have been a high 
bowler of odious pattern, worn with a baggy morning-coat, and an instinct 
told him that the fellow did not commonly carry a clean 
pocket-handkerchief. The face was not of the most agreeable pattern, and 
was in no way improved by a pair of bulbous chin- whiskers of a ginger 
hue, into which moustaches of like colour merged imperceptibly. Yet, in 
spite of these signals hung out by nature, Dyson felt that the individual 
beside him was something more than compact of vulgarity. He was 
struggling himself, holding his feelings in check; but now and again 
passion would mount black to his face, and it was evidently by a supreme 
effort that he kept himself from raging like a madman. Dyson found 
something curious and a little terrible, in the spectacle of an occult emotion 
thus striving for the mastery, and threatening to break out at every instant 
with violence; and they had gone some distance before the person whom he 


had met by so odd a hazard was able to speak quietly. 

'You are really very good,' he said. 'I apologise again; my rudeness was 
really most unjustifiable. I feel my conduct demands an explanation, and I 
shall be happy to give it to you. Do you happen to know of any place near 
here where one could sit down? I should really be very glad.' 

'My dear sir,' said Dyson solemnly, 'the only cafe in London is close by. 
Pray do not consider yourself as bound to offer me any explanation, but at 
the same time I should be most happy to listen to you. Let us turn down 

They walked down a sober street and turned into what seemed a narrow 
passage past an iron-barred gate thrown back. The passage was paved with 
flagstones, and decorated with handsome shrubs in pots on either side, and 
the shadow of the high walls made a coolness which was very agreeable 
after the hot breath of the sunny street. Presently the passage opened out 
into a tiny square, a charming place, a morsel of France transplanted into 
the heart of London. High walls rose on either side, covered with glossy 
creepers, flower-beds beneath were gay with nasturtiums, and marigolds, 
and odorous mignonette, and in the centre of the square a fountain, hidden 
by greenery, sent a cool shower continually plashing into the basin beneath. 
Chairs and tables were disposed at convenient intervals, and at the other 
end of the court broad doors had been thrown back; beyond was a long, 
dark room, and the turmoil of traffic had become a distant murmur. Within 
the room one or two men were sitting at the tables, writing and sipping, but 
the courtyard was empty. 

'You see, we shall be quiet,' said Dyson. 'Pray sit down here, Mr ?' 

'Wilkins. My name is Henry Wilkins.' 

'Sit here, Mr Wilkins. I think you will find that a comfortable seat. I 
suppose you have not been here before? This is the quiet time; the place 
will be like a hive at six o'clock, and the chairs and tables will overflow 
into that little alley there.' 


A waiter came in response to the bell; and after Dyson had politely inquired 
after the health of M. Annibault, the proprietor, he ordered a bottle of the 
wine of Champigny. 

The wine of Champigny,' he observed to Mr Wilkins, who was evidently a 
good deal composed by the influence of the place, 'is a Tourainian wine of 
great merit. Ah, here it is; let me fill your glass. How do you find it?' 

'Indeed,' said Mr Wilkins, 'I should have pronounced it fine Burgundy. The 
bouquet is very exquisite. I am fortunate in lighting upon such a good 
Samaritan as yourself: I wonder you did not think me mad. But if you knew 
the terrors that assailed me, I am sure you would no longer be surprised at 
conduct which was certainly most unjustifiable.' 

He sipped his wine, and leant back in his chair relishing the drip and trickle 
of the fountain, and the cool greenness that hedged in this little port of 

'Yes,' he said at last, 'that is indeed an admirable wine. Thank you; you will 
allow me to offer you another bottle?' 

The waiter was summoned, and descended through a trap-door in the floor 
of the dark apartment and brought up the wine. Mr Wilkins lit a cigarette, 
and Dyson pulled out his pipe. 

'Now,' said Mr Wilkins, 'I promised to give you an explanation of my 
strange behaviour. It is rather a long story, but I see, sir, that you are no 
mere cold observer of the ebb and flow of life. You take, I think, a warm 
and an intelligent interest in the chances of your fellow-creatures, and I 
believe you will find what I have to tell not devoid of interest.' 

Mr Dyson signified his assent to these propositions; and though he thought 
Mr Wilkins's diction a little pompous, prepared to interest himself in his 
tale. The other, who had so raged with passion half an before, was now 
perfectly cool, and when he had smoked out his cigarette, he began in an 
even voice to relate the 



I am the son of a poor but learned clergyman in the west of England - But I 
am forgetting, these details are not of special interest. I will briefly state, 
then my father, who was, as I have said, a learned man who never learnt the 
specious arts by which the great are flattered, and would never condescend 
to the despicable pursuit of self-advertisement. Though his fondness for 
ancient ceremonies and quaint customs, combined with a kindness of heart 
that was unequalled and a primitive and fervent piety, endeared him to his 
moorland parishioners, such were not the steps by which clergy then rose in 
the Church, and at sixty my father was still incumbent of the little benefice 
he had accepted in his thirtieth year. The income of the living was barely 
sufficient to support life in the decencies which are expected of the 
Anglican parson; and when my father died a few years ago, I, his only 
child, found myself thrown upon the world with a slender capital of less 
than a hundred pounds, and all the problem of existence before me. I felt 
that there was nothing for me to do in the country, and as usually happens 
in such cases, London drew me like a magnet. One day in August, in the 
early morning, while the dew still glittered on the turf, and on the high 
green banks of the lane, a neighbour drove me to the railway station, and I 
bade good-bye to the land of the broad moors and unearthly battlements of 
the wild tors. It was six o'clock as we neared London; the faint, sickly fume 
of the brickfields about Acton came in puffs through the open window, and 
a mist was rising from the ground. Presently the brief view of successive 
streets, prim and uniform, struck me with a sense of monotony; the hot air 
seemed to grow hotter; and when we had rolled beneath the dismal and 
squalid houses, whose dirty and neglected backyards border the line near 
Paddington, I felt as if I should be stifled in this fainting breath of London. 
I got a hansom and drove off, and every street increased my gloom; grey 
houses, with blinds drawn down, whole thoroughfares almost desolate, and 
the foot-passengers who seem to stagger wearily along rather than walk, all 
made me feel a sinking at heart. I put up for the night at a hotel in a street 
leading from the Strand, where my father had stayed on his few brief visits 
to town; and when I went out after dinner, the real gaiety and bustle of the 
Strand and Fleet Street could cheer me but little for in all this great city 
there was no single human whom I could claim even as an acquaintance. I 


will not weary you with the history of the next year, for the adventures of a 
man who sinks are too trite to be worth recalling. My money did not last 
me long; I found that I must be neatly dressed, or no one to whom I applied 
would so much as listen to me; and I must live in a street of decent 
reputation if I wished to be treated with common civility. I applied for 
various posts, for which, as I now see, I was completely devoid of 
qualification; I tried to become a clerk without having the smallest notion 
of business habits; and I found, to my cost, that a general knowledge of 
literature and an execrable style of penmanship are far from being looked 
upon with favour in commercial circles. I had read one of the most 
charming of the works of a famous novelist of present day, and I frequented 
the Fleet Street taverns the hope of making literary friends, and so getting 
introductions which I understood were indispensable in the career of letters. 
I was disappointed; I once or twice ventured to address gentlemen who 
were sitting in adjoining boxes, and I was answered, politely indeed, but in 
a manner that told me my advances were unusual. Pound by pound, my 
small resources melted; I could no longer think of appearances; I migrated 
to a shy quarter, and my meals became mere observances. I went out at one 
and returned to my room at two, but nothing but a mere milk-cake had 
occurred in the interval. In short, I became acquainted with misfortune; and 
as I sat amidst slush and ice on a seat in Hyde Park, munching a piece of 
bread, I realized the bitterness of poverty, and the feelings of a gentleman 
reduced to something far below the condition of a vagrant. In spite of all 
discouragement I did not desist in my efforts to earn a living. I consulted 
advertisement columns, I kept my eyes open for a chance, I looked in at the 
windows of stationers' shops, but all in vain. One evening I was sitting in a 
Free Library, and I saw an advertisement in one of the papers. It was 
something like this: 'Wanted by a gentleman a person of literary taste and 
abilities as secretary and amanuensis. Must not object to travel.' Of course I 
knew that such an advertisement would have answers by the hundred, and I 
thought my own chances of securing the post extremely small; however, I 
applied at the address given, and wrote to Mr Smith, who was staying at a 
large hotel at the West End. I must confess that my heart gave a jump when 
I received a note a couple of days later, asking me to call at the Cosmopole 
at my earliest convenience. I do not know, sir, what your experiences of life 
may have been, and so I cannot tell whether you have known such 


moments. A slight sickness, my heart beating rather more rapidly than 
usual, a choking in the throat, and a difficulty of utterance; such were my 
sensations as I walked to the Cosmopole; I had to mention the name twice 
before the hall porter could understand me, and as I went upstairs my hands 
were wet. I was a good deal struck by Mr Smith is appearance; he looked 
younger than I did, and there was something mild and hesitating about his 
expression. He was reading when I came in, and he looked up when I gave 
my name. 'My dear sir,' he said, 'I am really delighted to see you. I have 
read very carefully the letter you were good enough to send me. Am I to 
understand that this document is in your own handwriting?' He showed me 
the letter that I had written, and I told him I was not so fortunate as to be 
able to keep a secretary myself. 'Then sir,' he went on, 'the post I advertised 
is at your service. You have no objection to travel, I presume?' As you may 
imagine, I closed pretty eagerly with the offer he made, and thus I entered 
the service of Mr Smith. The first few weeks I had no special duties; I 
received a quarter's salary, and a handsome allowance was made me in lieu 
of board and lodging. One morning, however, when I called at the hotel 
according to instructions, my master informed me that I must hold myself 
in readiness for a sea-voyage, and, to spare necessary detail, in the course 
of a fortnight we landed at New York. Mr Smith told me that he engaged 
on a work of a special nature, in the compilation of which some peculiar 
researches had to be made; in short, I was given to understand that we were 
to travel to the far West. 

After about a week had been spent in New York we took our seats in the 
cars, and began a journey tedious beyond all conception. Day after day, and 
night after night, the great train rolled on, threading its way through cities 
the very names of which were strange to me, passing at slow speed over 
perilous viaducts, skirting mountain ranges and pine forests, and plunging 
into dense tracts of wood, where mile after mile and hour after hour the 
same monotonous growth of brushwood met the eye, and all along the 
continual clatter and rattle of the wheels upon the ill-laid lines made it 
difficult to hear the voices of our fellow-passengers. We were a 
heterogeneous and ever-changing company; often I woke up in the dead of 
night with a sudden grinding jar of the brakes, and looking out found that 
we had stopped in the shabby street of some frame-built town, lighted 


chiefly by the flaring windows of the saloon. A few rough-looking fellows 
would often come out to stare at the cars, and sometimes passengers got 
down, and sometimes there was a party of two or three waiting on the 
wooden sidewalk to get on board. Many of the passengers were English; 
humble households torn up from the moorings of a thousand years, and 
bound for some problematical paradise in the alkali desert or the Rockies. I 
heard the men talking to one another of the great profits to be made on the 
virgin soil of America, and two or three, who were mechanics, expatiated 
on the wonderful wages given to skilled labour on the railways and in the 
factories of the States. This talk usually fell dead after a few minutes, and I 
could see a sickness and dismay in the faces of these men as they looked at 
the ugly brush or at the desolate expanse of the prairie, dotted here and 
there with frame-houses, devoid of garden or flowers or trees, standing all 
alone in what might have been a great grey sea frozen into stillness. Day 
after day the waving skyline, and the desolation of a land without form or 
colour or variety, appalled the hearts of such of us as were Englishmen, and 
once in the night as I lay awake I heard a woman, weeping and sobbing and 
asking what she had done to come to such a place. Her husband tried to 
comfort her in the broad speech of Gloucestershire, telling her that the 
ground was so rich that one had only to plough it up and it would grow 
sunflowers of itself, but she cried for her mother and their old cottage and 
the beehives like a little child. The sadness of it all overwhelmed me and I 
had no heart to think of other matters; the question of what Mr Smith could 
have to do in such a country, and of what manner of literary research he be 
carried on in the wilderness, hardly troubled me. Now and again my 
situation struck me as peculiar; I had been engaged as a literary assistant at 
a handsome salary, and yet my master was still almost a stranger to me; 
sometimes he would come to where I was sitting in the cars and make a few 
banal remarks about the country, but for the most part of the journey he 
kept to himself, not speaking to anyone, and so far as I could judge, deep in 
his thoughts. It was, I think, the fifth day from New York when I received 
the intimation that we should shortly leave the cars; I had been watching 
some distant mountains which rose wild and savage before us, and I was 
wondering if there were human beings so unhappy as to speak of home in 
connection with those piles of lumbered rock, when Mr Smith touched me 
lightly on the shoulder. 'You will be glad to be done with the cars, I have no 


doubt, Mr Wilkins,' he said. 'You were looking at the mountains, I think? 
Well, I hope we shall be there tonight. The train stops at Reading, and I 
dare say we shall manage to find our way.' 

A few hours later the brakesman brought the train to a standstill at the 
Reading depot, and we got out. I noticed that the town, though of course 
built almost entirely of frame-houses, was larger and busier than any we 
had passed for the last two days. The depot was crowded; and as the bell 
and whistle sounded, I saw that a number of persons were preparing to 
leave the cars, while an even greater number were waiting to get on board. 
Besides the passengers, there was a pretty dense crowd of people, some of 
whom had come to meet or to see off their friends and relatives, while 
others were mere loafers. Several of our English fellow-passengers got 
down at Reading, but the confusion was so great that they were lost to my 
sight almost immediately. Mr Smith beckoned to me to follow him, and we 
were soon in the thick of the mass; and the continual ringing of bells, the 
hubbub of voices, the shrieking of whistles, and the hiss of escaping steam, 
confused my senses, and I wondered dimly, as I struggled after my 
employer, where we were going, and how we should be able to find our 
way through an unknown country. Mr Smith had put on a wide-brimmed 
hat, which he had sloped over his eyes, and as all the men wore hats of the 
same pattern, it was with some difficulty that I distinguished him in the 
crowd. We got free at last, and he struck down a side street, and made one 
or two sharp turns to right and left. It was getting dusk, and we seemed to 
be passing through a shy portion of the town; there were few people about 
in the ill-lighted streets, and these few were men of the most 
unprepossessing pattern. Suddenly we stopped before a corner house. A 
man was standing at the door, apparently on the lookout for some one, and 
I noticed that he and Smith gave glances one to the other. 

'From New York City, I expect, mister?' 

'From New York.' 

'All right; they're ready, and you can have 'em when you choose. I know my 
orders, you see, and I mean to run this business through.' 


'Very well, Mr Evans, that is what we want. Our money is good, you know. 
Bring them round.' 

I had stood silent, listening to this dialogue and wondering what it meant. 
Smith began to walk impatiently up and down the street, and the man was 
still standing at his door. He had given a whistle, and I saw him looking me 
over in a leisurely way, as if to make sure of my face for another time. I 
was thinking what all this could mean when an ugly, slouching lad came up 
a side passage, leading two raw-boned horses. 

'Get up, Mr Wilkins, and be quick about it,' said Smith; 'we ought to be on 
our way.' 

We rode off together into the gathering darkness and before long I looked 
back and saw the far plain behind us, with the lights of the town 
glimmering faintly; and in front rose the mountains. Smith guided his horse 
on the rough track as surely as if he had been riding along Piccadilly, and I 
followed him as well as I could. I was weary and exhausted, and scarcely 
took note of anything; I felt that the track was a gradual ascent, and here 
and there I saw great boulders by the road. The ride made but little 
impression on me. I have a faint recollection of passing through a dense 
black pine forest, where our horses had to pick their way among the rocks, 
and I remember the peculiar effect of the rarefied air as we kept still 
mounting higher and higher. I think I must have been half asleep for the 
latter half of the ride, and it was with a shock that I heard Smith saying — 

'Here we are, Wilkins. This is Blue Rock Park. You will enjoy the view 
tomorrow. Tonight we will have something to eat, and then go to bed.' 

A man came out of a rough-looking house and took the horses, and we 
found some fried steak and coarse whisky awaiting us inside. I had come to 
a strange place. There were three rooms — the room in which we had 
supper, Smith's room, and my own. The deaf old man who did the work 
slept in a sort of shed, and when I woke up the next morning and walked 
out I found that the house stood in a sort of hollow amongst the mountains; 
the clumps of pines and some enormous bluish-grey rocks that stood here 


and there between the trees had given the place the name of Blue Rock 
Park. On every side the snow-covered mountains surrounded us, the breath 
of the air was as wine, and when I climbed the slope and looked down, I 
could see that, so far as any human fellowship was concerned, I might as 
well have been wrecked on some small island in mid-Pacific. The only 
trace of man I could see was the rough log-house where I had slept, and in 
my ignorance I did not know that there were similar houses within 
comparatively easy distance, as distance is reckoned in the Rockies. But at 
the moment, the utter, dreadful loneliness rushed upon me, and the thought 
of the great plain and the great sea that parted me from the world I knew 
caught me by the throat, and I wondered if I should die there in mountain 
hollow. It was a terrible instant, and I have not yet forgotten it. Of course, I 
managed to conquer my horror; I said I should be all the stronger for 
experience, and I made up my mind to make the best of everything. It was a 
rough life enough, and rough enough board and lodging. I was left entirely 
to myself. Smith I scarcely ever saw, nor did I know when he was in the 
house. I have often thought he was far away, have been surprised to see him 
walking out of his room locking the door behind him, and putting the key in 
his pocket; and on several occasions, when I fancied he was busy in his 
room, I have seen him come in with his boots covered with dust and dirt. 
So far as work went I enjoyed a complete sinecure; I had nothing to do but 
walk about the valley, to eat, and to sleep. With one thing and another I 
grew accustomed to the life, managed to make myself pretty comfortable, 
and by degrees I began to venture farther away from the hollow and to 
explore the country. One day I had contrived to get into a neighbouring 
valley, and suddenly I came upon a group of men sawing timber. I went up 
to them, hoping that perhaps some of them might be Englishmen; at all 
events, they were human beings, and I should hear articulate speech; for the 
old man I have mentioned, besides being half blind and stone deaf, was 
wholly dumb so far as I was concerned. I was prepared to be welcomed in a 
rough and ready fashion, without much of the forms of politeness, but the 
grim glances and the short, gruff answers I received astonished me. I saw 
the men glancing oddly at each other; and one of them, who stopped work, 
began fingering a gun, and I was obliged to return on my path uttering 
curses on the fate which had brought me into a land where men were more 
brutish than the very brutes. The solitude of the life began to oppress me as 


with a nightmare, and a few days later I determined to walk to a kind of 
station some miles distant, where a rough inn was kept for the 
accommodation of hunters and tourists. English gentlemen occasionally 
stopped there for the night, and I thought I might perhaps fall in with some 
one of better manners than the inhabitants of the country. I found, as I had 
expected, a group of men lounging about the door of the log- house that 
served as a hotel, and as I came nearer I could see that heads were put 
together and looks interchanged, and when I walked up the six or seven 
trappers stared at me in stony ferocity, and with something of the disgust 
that one eyes a loathsome and venomous snake. 

I felt that I could bear it no longer, and I called out - 

'Is there such a thing as an Englishman here, or any one with a little 

One of the men put his hand to his belt, but his neighbour checked him, and 
answered me — 

'You'll find we've got some of the resources of civilization before very 
long, mister, and I expect you'll not fancy them extremely. But, any way, 
there's an Englishman tarrying here, and I've no doubt he'll be glad to see 
you. There you are; that's Mr D'Aubernoun.' 

A young man, dressed like an English country squire, came and stood at the 
door, and looked at me. One of the men pointed to me and said - 

'That's the individual we were talking about last night. Thought you might 
like to have a look at him, squire, and here he is.' 

The young fellow's good-natured English face clouded over, and he glanced 
sternly at me, and turned away with a gesture of contempt and aversion. 

'Sir,' I cried, 'I do not know what I have done to be treated in this manner. 
You are my fellow-countryman and I expected some courtesy.' 


He gave me a black look and made as if he would go in, but he changed his 
mind and faced me. 

'You are rather imprudent, I think, to behave in this manner. You must be 
counting on a forbearance which cannot last very long, which may last a 
very short time indeed. And let me tell you this, sir, you may call yourself 
an Englishman, and drag the name of England through the dirt, but you 
need not count on any English influence to help you. If I were you, I would 
not stay here much longer.' 

He went into the inn, and the men watched my face as I stood there, 
wondering whether I was going mad. The woman of the house came out 
and stared at me as if I were a wild beast or a savage, and I turned to her, 
and spoke quietly, 'I am very hungry and thirsty. I have walked a long way. 
I have plenty of money. Will you give me something to eat and drink?' 

'No, I won't,' she said. 'You had better quit this.' 

I crawled home like a wounded beast, and lay down on my bed. It was all a 
hopeless puzzle to me; I knew nothing but rage, and shame, and terror, and 
I suffered little more when I passed by a house in an adjacent valley, and 
some children who were playing outside ran from me shrieking, I was 
forced to walk to find some occupation; I should have died if I had sat 
down quietly in Blue Rock Park and looked all day at the mountains; but 
whenever I saw a human being I saw the same glance of hatred and 
aversion, and once as I was crossing a thick brake I heard a shot and the 
venomous hiss of a bullet close to my ear. 

One day I heard a conversation which astounded me; I was sitting behind a 
rock resting, and two men came along the track and halted. One of them 
had got his feet entangled in some wild vines, and swore fiercely, but the 
other laughed, and said they were useful things sometimes. 

'What the hell do you mean?' 


'Oh, nothing much. But they're uncommon tough, these here vines, and 
sometimes rope is skerse and dear.' The man who had sworn chuckled at 
this, and I heard them sit down and light their pipes. 

'Have you seen him lately?' asked the humourist. 

'I sighted him the other day, but the darned bullet went high. He's got his 
master's luck I expect, sir, but it can't last much longer. You heard about 
him going to Jinks's and trying his brass, but the young Britisher downed 
him pretty considerable, I can tell you.' 

'What the devil is the meaning of it?' 

'I don't know, but I believe it'll have to be finished, and done in the old style 
too. You know how they fix the niggers?' 

'Yes, sir, I've seen a little of that. A couple of gallons of kerosene '11 cost a 
dollar at Brown's store, but I should say it's cheap anyway.' 

They moved off after this, and I lay still behind the rock, the sweat pouring 
down my face. I was so sick that I could barely stand, and I walked home 
as slowly as an old man, leaning on my stick. I knew that the two men had 
been talking about me, and I knew that some terrible death was in store for 
me. That night I could not sleep; I tossed on the rough bed and tortured 
myself to find out the meaning of it all. At last, in the very dead of night, I 
rose from the bed and put on my clothes, and went out. I did not care where 
I went, but I felt that I must walk till I had tired myself out. It was a clear 
moonlight night, and in a couple of hours I found I was approaching a place 
of dismal reputation in the mountains, a deep cleft in the rocks, known as 
Black Gulf Canon. Many years before an unfortunate party of Englishmen 
and Englishwomen had camped here and had been surrounded by Indians. 
They were captured, outraged, and put to death with almost inconceivable 
tortures, and the roughest of the trappers or woodsmen gave the canon a 
wide berth even in the daytime. As I crushed through the dense brushwood 
which grew above the canon I heard voices; and wondering who could be 
in such a place at such a time, I went on, walking more carefully, and 


making as little noise as possible. There was a great tree growing on the 
very edge of the rocks, and I lay down and looked out from behind the 
trunk. Black Gulf Canon was below me, the moonlight shining bright into 
its very depths from mid-heaven, and casting shadows as black as death 
from the pointed rock, and all the sheer rock on the other side, overhanging 
the canon, was in darkness. At intervals a light veil obscured the moonlight, 
as a filmy cloud fleeted across the moon, and a bitter wind blew shrill 
across the gulf. I looked down, as I have said, and saw twenty men standing 
in a semicircle round a rock; I counted them one by one, and knew most of 
them. They were the very vilest of the vile, more vile than any den in 
London could show, and there was murder, worse than murder, on the 
heads of not a few. Facing them and me stood Mr Smith, with the rock 
before him, and on the rock was a great pair of scales, such as are used in 
the stores. I heard his voice ringing down the canon as I lay beside the tree, 
and my heart turned cold as I heard it. 

'Life for gold,' he cried, 'a life for gold. The blood and the life of an enemy 
for every pound of gold.' 

A man stepped out and raised one hand, and with the other flung a bright 
lump of something into the pan of the scales, which clanged down, and 
Smith muttered something in his ear. Then he cried again - 

'Blood for gold, for a pound of gold, the life of an enemy. For every pound 
of gold upon the scales, a life.' 

One by one the men came forward, each lifting up his right hand; and the 
gold was weighed in the scales, and each time Smith leant forward and 
spoke to each man in his ear. Then he cried again - 

'Desire and lust for gold on the scales. For every pound of gold enjoyment 
of desire.' 

I saw the same thing happen as before; the uplifted hand and the metal 
weighed, and the mouth whispering, and black passion on every face. 


Then, one by one, I saw the men again step up to Smith. A muttered 
conversation seemed to take place. I could see that Smith was explaining 
and directing, and I noticed that he gesticulated a little as one who points 
out the way, and once or twice he moved his hands quickly as if he would 
show that the path was clear and could not be missed. I kept my eyes so 
intently on his figure that I noted little else, and at last it was with a start 
that I realized that the canon was empty. A moment before I thought I had 
seen the group of villainous faces, and the two standing, a little apart, by 
the rock; I had looked down a moment, and when I glanced again into the 
canon there was no one there. In dumb terror I made my way home, and I 
fell asleep in an instant from exhaustion. No doubt I should have slept on 
for many hours, but when I woke up the sun was only rising, and the light 
shone in on my bed. I had started up from sleep with the sensation of 
having received a violent shock; and as I looked in confusion about me, I 
saw, to my amazement, that there were three men in the room. One of them 
had his hand on my shoulder, and spoke to me - 

'Come, mister, wake up. Your time's up now, I reckon, and the boys are 
waiting for you outside, and they're in a big hurry. Come on; you can put on 
your clothes; it's kind of chilly this morning.' 

I saw the other two men smiling sourly at each other, but I understood 
nothing. I simply pulled on my clothes and said I was ready. 

'All right; come on, then. You go first, Nichols, and Jim and I will give the 
gentleman an arm.' 

They took me out into the sunlight, and then I understood the meaning of a 
dull murmur that had vaguely perplexed me while I was dressing. There 
were about two hundred men waiting outside, and some women too, and 
when they saw me there was a low muttering growl. I did not know what I 
had done, but that noise made my heart beat and the sweat come out on my 
face. I saw confusedly, as through a veil, the tumult and tossing of the 
crowd, discordant voices were speaking, and amongst all those faces there 
was not one glance of mercy, but a fury of lust that I did not understand. I 
found myself presently walking in a sort of procession up the slope of the 


valley, and on every side of me there were men with revolvers in their 
hands. Now and then a voice struck me, and I heard words and sentences of 
which I could form no connected story. But I understood that there was one 
sentence of execration; I heard scraps of stories that seemed strange and 
improbable. Some one was talking of men, lured by cunning devices from 
their homes and murdered with hideous tortures, found writhing like 
wounded snakes in dark and lonely places, only crying for some one to stab 
them to the heart, and so end their anguish; and I heard another voice 
speaking of innocent girls who had vanished for a day or two, and then had 
come back and died, blushing red with shame even in the agonies of death. 
I wondered what it all meant, and what was to happen; but I was so weary 
that I walked on in a dream, scarcely longing for anything but sleep. At last 
we stopped. We had reached the summit of the hill overlooking Blue Rock 
Valley, and I saw that I was standing beneath a clump of trees where I had 
often sat. I was in the midst of a ring of armed men, and I saw that two or 
three men were very busy with piles of wood, while others were fingering a 
rope. Then there was a stir in the crowd, and a man was pushed forward. 
His hands and feet were tightly bound with cord; and though his face was 
unutterably villainous, I pitied him for the agony that worked his features 
and twisted his lips. I knew him; he was amongst those that had gathered 
round Smith in Black Gulf Canon. In an instant he was unbound and 
stripped naked, borne beneath one of the trees, and his neck encircled by a 
noose that went around the trunk. A hoarse voice gave some kind of order; 
there was a rush of feet, and the rope tightened; and there before me I saw 
the blackened face and the writhing limbs and the shameful agony of death. 
One after another half a dozen men, all of whom I had seen in the canon the 
night before, were strangled before me, and their bodies were flung forth on 
the ground. Then there was a pause, and the man who had roused me a 
short while before came up to me, and said — 

'Now, mister, it's your turn. We give you five minutes to cast up your 
accounts, and when that's clocked, by the living God, we will burn you 
alive at that tree.' 

It was then I awoke and understood. I cried out — 


'Why, what have I done? Why should you hurt me? I am a harmless man; I 
never did you any wrong.' I covered my face with my hands; it seemed so 
pitiful, and it was such a terrible death. 

'What have I done?' I cried again. 'You must take me for some other man. 
You cannot know me.' 

'You black-hearted devil,' said the man at my side, 'we know you well 
enough. There's not a man within thirty miles of this that won't curse Jack 
Smith when you are burning in hell.' 

'My name is not Smith,' I said, with some hope left in me. 'My name is 
Wilkins. I was Mr Smith's secretary, but I knew nothing of him.' 

'Hark at the black liar,' said the man. 'Secretary be damned! You were 
clever enough, I dare say, to slink out at night and keep your face in the 
dark, but we've tracked you out at last. But your time's up. Come along.' 

I was dragged to the tree and bound to it with chains; I saw the piles of 
wood heaped all about me, and shut my eyes. Then I felt myself drenched 
all over with some liquid, and looked again, and a woman grinned at me. 
She had just emptied a great can of petroleum over me and over the wood. 
A voice shouted, 'Fire away!' and I fainted, and knew nothing more. When I 
opened my eyes I was lying on a bed in a bare, comfortless room. A doctor 
was holding some strong salts to my nostrils, and a gentleman standing by 
the bed, whom I afterwards found to be the sheriff, addressed me. 

'Say, mister,' he began, 'you've had an uncommon narrow squeak for it. The 
boys were just about lighting up when I came along with the posse, and I 
had as much as I could do to bring you off, I can tell you. And, mind you, I 
don't blame them; they had made up their minds, you see, that you were the 
head of the Black Gulf gang, and at first nothing I could say would 
persuade them you weren't Jack Smith. Luckily, a man from here named 
Evans, that came along with us, allowed he had seen you with Jack Smith, 
and that you were yourself. So we brought you along and gaoled you, but 
you can go if you like when you're through with this faint turn.' 


I got on the cars the next day, and in three weeks I was in London; again 
almost penniless. But from that time my fortune seemed to change; I made 
influential friends in all directions; bank directors courted my company, 
and editors positively flung themselves into my arms. I had only to choose 
my career, and after a while I determined that I was meant by nature for a 
life of comparative leisure. With an ease that seemed almost ridiculous, I 
obtained a well-paid position in connection with a prosperous political club. 
I have charming chambers in a central neighbourhood, close to the parks, 
the club chef exerts himself when I lunch or dine, and the rarest vintages in 
the cellar are always at my disposal. Yet, since my return to London, I have 
never known a day's security or peace; I tremble when I awake lest Smith 
should be standing at my bed, and every step I take seems to bring me 
nearer to the edge of the precipice. Smith, I knew, had escaped free from 
the raid of the Vigilantes, and I grew faint at the thought that he would in 
all probability return to London, and that suddenly and unprepared I should 
meet him face to face. Every morning as I left my house I would peer up 
and down the street, expecting to see that dreaded figure awaiting me; I 
have delayed at street-corners, my heart in my mouth, sickening at the 
thought that a few quick steps might bring us together; I could not bear to 
frequent the theatres or music-halls, lest by some bizarre chance he should 
prove to be my neighbour. Sometimes I have been forced, against my will, 
to walk out at night, and then in silent squares the shadows have made me 
shudder, and in the medley of meetings in the crowded thoroughfares I 
have said to myself, 'It must come sooner or later; he will surely return to 
London, and I shall see him when I feel most secure.' I scanned the 
newspapers for hint or intimation of approaching danger, and no small type 
nor report of trivial interest was allowed to pass unread. Especially I read 
and re-read the advertisement columns, but without result; months passed 
by, and I was undisturbed till, though I felt far from safe, I no longer 
suffered from the intolerable oppression of instant and ever-present terror. 
This afternoon, as I was walking quietly along Oxford Street, I raised my 
eyes and looked across the road, and then at last I saw the man who had so 
long haunted my thoughts. 

Mr Wilkins finished his wine, and leant back in his chair, looking sadly at 
Dyson; and then, as if a thought struck him, fished out of an inner pocket a 


leather lettercase, and handed a newspaper cutting across the table. Dyson 
glanced closely at the slip, and saw that it had been extracted from the 
columns of an evening paper. It ran as follows:— 



'A Dalziel telegram from Reading (Colorado) states that advices received 
there from Blue Rock Park report a frightful instance of popular vengeance. 
For some time the neighbourhood has been terrorized by the crimes of a 
gang of desperadoes, who, under the cover of a carefully planned 
organization, have perpetrated the most infamous cruelties on men and 
women. A Vigilance Committee was formed, and it was found that the 
leader of the gang was a person named Smith, living in Blue Rock Park. 
Action was taken, and six of the worst in the band were summarily 
strangled in the presence of two or three hundred men and women. Smith is 
said to have escaped.' 

This is a terrible story,' said Dyson; 'I can well believe that your days and 
nights are haunted by such fearful scenes as you have described. But surely 
you have no need to fear Smith? He has much more cause to fear you. 
Consider: you have only to lay your information before the police, and a 
warrant would be immediately issued for his arrest. Besides, you will, I am 
sure, excuse me for what I am going to say.' 

'My dear sir,' said Mr Wilkins,' I hope you will speak to me with perfect 

'Well, then, I must confess that my impression was that you were rather 
disappointed at not being able to stop the man before he drove off. I 
thought you seemed annoyed that you could not get across the street.' 

'Sir, I did not know what I was about. I caught sight of the man, but it was 
only for a moment, and the agony you witnessed was the agony of 
suspense. I was not perfectly certain of the face, and the horrible thought 


that Smith was again in London overwhelmed me. I shuddered at the idea 
of this incarnate fiend, whose soul is black with shocking crimes, mingling 
free and unobserved amongst the harmless crowds, meditating perhaps a 
new and more fearful cycle of infamies. I tell you, sir, that an awful being 
stalks through the streets, a being before whom the sunlight itself should 
blacken, and the summer air grow chill and dank. Such thoughts as these 
rushed upon me with the force of a whirlwind; I lost my senses.' 

'I see. I partly understand your feelings, but I would impress on you that 
you have nothing really to fear. Depend upon it, Smith will not molest you 
in any way. You must remember he himself has had a warning; and indeed, 
from the brief glance I had of him, he seemed to me to be a 
frightened-looking man. However, I see it is getting late, and if you will 
excuse me, Mr Wilkins, I think I will be going. I dare say we shall often 
meet here.' 

Dyson walked off smartly, pondering the strange story chance had brought 
him, and finding on cool reflection that there was something a little strange 
in Mr Wilkins's manner, for which not even so weird a catalogue of 
experiences could altogether account. 


Mr Charles Phillipps was, as has been hinted, a gentleman of pronounced 
scientific tastes. In his early days he had devoted himself with fond 
enthusiasm to the agreeable study of biology, and a brief monograph on the 
Embryology of the Microscopic Holothuria had formed his first 
contribution to the belles lettres. Later he had somewhat relaxed the 
severity of his pursuits, and had dabbled in the more frivolous subjects of 
palaeontology and ethnology; he had a cabinet in his sitting-room whose 
drawers were stuffed with rude flint implements, and a charming fetish 
from the South Seas was the dominant note in the decorative scheme of the 
apartment. Flattering himself with the title of materialist, he was in truth 
one of the most credulous of men, but he required a marvel to be neatly 
draped in the robes of Science before he would give it any credit, and the 
wildest dreams took solid shape to him if only the nomenclature were 


severe and irreproachable. He laughed at the witch, but quailed before the 
powers of the hypnotist, lifting his eyebrows when Christianity was 
mentioned, but adoring protyle and the ether. For the rest, he prided himself 
on a boundless scepticism; the average tale of wonder he heard with 
nothing but contempt, and he would certainly not have credited a word or 
syllable of Dyson's story of the pursuer and pursued, unless the gold coin 
had been produced as visible and tangible evidence. As it was, he half 
suspected that Dyson had imposed on him; he knew his friend's disordered 
fancies, and his habit of conjuring up the marvellous to account for the 
entirely commonplace; and, on the whole, he was inclined to think that the 
so-called facts in the odd adventure had been gravely distorted in the 
telling. Since the evening on which he had listened to the tale he had paid 
Dyson a visit, and had delivered himself of some serious talk on the 
necessity of accurate observation, and the folly, as he put it, of using a 
kaleidoscope instead of a telescope in the view of things, to which remarks 
his friend had listened with a smile that was extremely sardonic. 'My dear 
fellow,' Dyson had remarked at last, 'you will allow me to tell you that I see 
your drift perfectly. However, you will be astonished to hear that I consider 
you to be the visionary, while I am a sober and serious spectator of human 
life. You have gone round the circle; and while you fancy yourself far in 
the golden land of new philosophies, you are in reality a dweller in a 
metaphorical Clapham; your scepticism has defeated itself and become a 
monstrous credulity; you are, in fact, in the position of the bat or owl, I 
forget which it was, who denied the existence of the sun at noonday, and I 
shall be astonished if you do not one day come to me full of contrition for 
your manifold intellectual errors, with a humble resolution to see things in 
their true light for the future.' This tirade had left Mr Phillipps unimpressed; 
he considered Dyson as hopeless, and he went home to gloat over some 
primitive stone implements that a friend had sent him from India. He found 
that his landlady, seeing them displayed in all their rude formlessness upon 
the table, had removed the collection to the dustbin, and had replaced it by 
lunch; and the afternoon was spent in malodorous research. Mrs Brown 
hearing these stones spoken of as very valuable knives, had called him in 
his hearing 'poor Mr Phillipps,' and between rage and evil odours he spent a 
sorry afternoon. It was four o'clock before he had completed his work of 
rescue; and, overpowered with the flavours of decaying cabbage leaves, 


Phillipps felt that he must have a walk to gain an appetite for the evening 
meal. Unlike Dyson he walked fast, with his eyes on the pavement, 
absorbed in his thoughts, and oblivious of the life around him; and he could 
not have told by what streets he had passed, when he suddenly lifted up his 
eyes and found himself in Leicester Square. The grass and flowers pleased 
him, and he welcomed the opportunity of resting for a few minutes, and 
glancing round, he saw a bench which had only one occupant, a lady, and 
as she was seated at one end, Phillipps took up a position at the other 
extremity, and began to pass in angry review the events of the afternoon. 
He had noticed as he came up to the bench that the person already there 
was neatly dressed, and to all appearance young; her face he could not see, 
as it was turned away in apparent contemplation of the shrubs, and, 
moreover, shielded with her hand; but it would be doing wrong to Mr 
Phillipps to imagine that his choice of a seat was dictated by any hopes of 
an affair of the heart, he had simply preferred the company of one lady to 
that of five dirty children, and having seated himself, was immersed 
directly in thoughts of his misfortunes. He had meditated changing his 
lodgings; but now, on a judicial review of the case in all its bearings, his 
calmer judgment told him that the race of landladies is like to the race of 
the leaves, and that there was but little to choose between them. He 
resolved, however, to talk to Mrs Brown, the offender, very coolly and yet 
severely, to point out the extreme indiscretion of her conduct, and to 
express a hope for better things in the future. With this decision registered 
in his mind, Phillipps was about to get up from the seat and move off, when 
he was intensely annoyed to hear a stifled sob, evidently from the lady, who 
still continued her contemplation of the shrubs and flower-beds. He 
clutched his stick desperately, and in a moment would have been in full 
retreat, when the lady turned her face towards him, and with a mute 
entreaty bespoke his attention. She was a young girl with a quaint and 
piquant rather than a beautiful face, and she was evidently in the bitterest 
distress. Mr Phillipps sat down again, and cursed his chances heartily. The 
young lady looked at him with a pair of charming eyes of a shining hazel, 
which showed no trace of tears, though a handkerchief was in her hand; she 
bit her lip, and seemed to struggle with some overpowering grief, and her 
whole attitude was all-beseeching and imploring. Phillipps sat on the edge 
of the bench gazing awkwardly at her, and wondering what was to come 


next, and she looked at him still without speaking. 

'Well, madam,' he said at last, 'I understood from your gesture that you 
wished to speak to me. Is there anything I can do for you? Though, if you 
will pardon me, I cannot help saying that that seems highly improbable.' 

'Ah, sir,' she said in a low, murmuring voice, 'do not speak harshly to me. I 
am in sore straits, and I thought from your face that I could safely ask your 
sympathy, if not your help.' 

'Would you kindly tell me what is the matter?' said Phillipps. 'Perhaps you 
would like some tea?' 

'I knew I could not be mistaken,' the lady replied. 'That offer of refreshment 
bespeaks a generous mind. But tea, alas! is powerless to console me. If you 
will let me, I shall endeavour to explain my trouble.' 

'I should be glad if you would.' 

'I shall do so, and I shall try to be brief, in spite of the numerous 
complications which have made me, young as I am, tremble before what 
seems the profound and terrible mystery of existence. Yet the grief which 
now racks my very soul is but too simple; I have lost my brother.' 

'Lost your brother! How on earth can that be?' 

'I see I must trouble you with a few particulars. My brother, then, who is by 
some years my elder, is a tutor in a private school in the extreme north of 
London. The want of means deprived him of the advantages of a University 
education; and lacking the stamp of a degree, he could not hope for that 
position which his scholarship and his talents entitled him to claim. He was 
thus forced to accept the post of classical master at Dr Saunderson's 
Highgate Academy for the Sons of Gentlemen, and he has performed his 
duties with perfect satisfaction to his principal for some years. My personal 
history need not trouble you; it will be enough if I tell you that for the last 
month I have been governess in a family residing at Tooting. My brother 


and I have always cherished the warmest mutual affection; and though 
circumstances into which I need not enter have I kept us apart for some 
time, yet we have never lost I sight of one another. We made up our minds 
that unless one of us was absolutely unable to rise from a bed of sickness, 
we should never let a week pass by without meeting, and some time ago we 
chose this square as our rendezvous on account of its central position and 
its convenience of access. And indeed, after a week of distasteful toil, my 
brother felt little inclination for much walking, and we have often spent two 
or three hours on this bench, speaking of our prospects and of happier days, 
when we were children. In the early spring it was cold and chilly; still we 
enjoyed the short respite, and I think that we were often taken for a pair of 
lovers, as we sat close together, eagerly talking. Saturday after Saturday we 
have met each other here; and though the doctor told him it was madness, 
my brother would not allow the influenza to break the appointment. That 
was some time ago; last Saturday we had a long and happy afternoon, and 
separated more cheerfully than usual, feeling that the coming week would 
be bearable, and resolving that our next meeting should be if possible still 
more pleasant. I arrived here at the time agreed upon, four o'clock, and sat 
down and watched for my brother, expecting every moment to see him 
advancing towards me from that gate at the north side of the square. Five 
minutes passed by, and he had not arrived, I thought he must have missed 
his train, and the idea that our interview would be cut short by twenty 
minutes, or perhaps half an hour, saddened me; I had hoped we should be 
so happy together today. Suddenly, moved by I know not what impulse, I 
turned abruptly round, and how can I describe to you my astonishment 
when I saw my brother advancing slowly towards me from the southern 
side of the square, accompanied by another person? My first thought, I 
remember, had in it something of resentment that this man, whoever he 
was, should intrude himself into our meeting; I wondered who it could 
possibly be, for my brother had, I may say, no intimate friends. Then as I 
looked still at the advancing figures, another feeling took possession of me; 
it was a sensation of bristling fear, the fear of the child in the dark, 
unreasonable and unreasoning, but terrible, clutching at my heart as with 
the cold grip of a dead man's hands. Yet I overcame the feeling, and looked 
steadily at my brother, waiting for him to speak, and more closely at his 
companion. Then I noticed that this man was leading my brother rather than 


walking arm-in-arm with him; he was a tall man, dressed in quite ordinary 
fashion. He wore a high bowler hat, and, in spite of the warmth of the day, 
a plain black overcoat, tightly buttoned, and I noticed his trousers, of a 
quiet black and grey stripe. The face was commonplace too, and indeed I 
cannot recall any special features, or any trick of expression; for though I 
looked at him as he came near, curiously enough his face made no 
impression on me — it was as though I had seen a well-made mask. They 
passed in front of me, and to my unutterable astonishment, I heard my 
brother's voice speaking to me, though his lips did not move, nor his eyes 
look into mine. It was a voice I cannot describe, though I knew it, but the 
words came to my ears as if mingled with plashing water and the sound of a 
shallow brook flowing amidst stones. I heard, then, the words, "I cannot 
stay," and for a moment the heavens and the earth seemed to rush together 
with the sound of thunder, and I was thrust forth from the world into a 
black void without ing and without end. For, as my brother passed me, I 
saw the hand that held him by the arm, and seemed to guide him, and in 
one moment of horror I realized that it was as a formless thing that has 
mouldered for many years in the grave. The flesh was peeled in strips from 
the bones, and hung apart dry and granulated, and the fingers that encircled 
my brother's arm were all unshapen, claw-like things, and one was but a 
stump from which the end had rotted off. When I recovered my senses I 
saw the two passing out by that gate. I paused for a moment, and then with 
a rush as of fire to my heart I knew that no horror could stay me, but that I 
must follow my brother and save him, even though all hell rose up against 
me. I ran out, and looked up the pavement, and saw the two figures walking 
amidst the crowd. I ran across the road, and saw them turn up that side 
street, and I reached the corner a moment later. In vain I looked to right and 
left, for neither my brother nor his strange guardian was in sight; two 
elderly men were coming down arm-in-arm, and a telegraph boy was 
walking lustily along whistling. I remained there a moment horror-struck, 
and then I bowed my head and returned to this seat, where you found me. 
Now, sir, do you wonder at my grief? Oh, tell me what has happened to my 
brother, or I feel I shall go mad!' 

Mr Phillipps, who had listened with exemplary patience to this tale, 
hesitated a moment before he spoke. 


'My dear madam,' he said at length, 'you have known how to engage me in 
your service, not only as a man, but as a student of science. As a 
fellow-creature I pity you most profoundly; you must have suffered 
extremely from what you saw, or rather from what you fancied you saw. 
For, as a scientific observer, it is my duty to tell you the plain truth, which, 
indeed, besides being true, must also console you. Allow me to ask you 
then to describe your brother.' 

'Certainly,' said the lady eagerly; 'I can describe him accurately. My brother 
is a somewhat young-looking man; he is pale, has small black whiskers, 
and wears spectacles. He has rather a timid, almost a frightened expression, 
and looks about him nervously from side to side. Think, think! Surely you 
must have seen him. Perhaps you are an habitue of this engaging quarter; 
you may have met him on some previous Saturday. I may have been 
mistaken in supposing that he turned up that side street; he may have gone 
on, and you may have passed each other. Oh, tell me, sir, whether you have 
not seen him?' 

'I am afraid I do not keep a very sharp look-out when I am walking,' said 
Phillipps, who would have passed his mother unnoticed; 'but I am sure your 
description is admirable. And now will you describe the person who, you 
say, held your brother by the arm?' 

'I cannot do so. I told you his face seemed devoid of expression or salient 
feature. It was like a mask.' 

'Exactly; you cannot describe what you have never seen. I need hardly point 
out to you the conclusion to be drawn; you have been the victim of an 
hallucination. You expected to see your brother, you were alarmed because 
you did not see him, and unconsciously, no doubt, your brain went to work, 
and finally you saw a mere projection of your own morbid thoughts — a 
vision of your absent brother, and a mere confusion of terrors incorporated 
in a figure which you can't describe. Of course your brother has been in 
some way prevented from coming to meet you as usual. I expect you will 
hear from him in a day or two.' 


The lady looked seriously at Mr Phillipps, and then for a second there 
seemed almost a twinkling as of mirth about her eyes, but her face clouded 
sadly at the dogmatic conclusions to which the scientist was led so 

'Ah!' she said, 'you do not know. I cannot doubt the evidence of my waking 
senses. Besides, perhaps I have had experiences even more terrible. I 
acknowledge the force of your arguments, but a woman has intuitions 
which never deceive her. Believe me, I am not hysterical; feel my pulse, it 
is quite regular.' 

She stretched out her hand with a dainty gesture, and a glance that 
enraptured Phillipps in spite of himself. The hand held out to him was soft 
and white and warm, and as, in some confusion, he placed his fingers on 
the purple vein, he felt profoundly touched by the spectacle of love and 
grief before him. 

'No,' he said, as he released her wrist, 'as you say, you are evidently quite 
yourself. Still, you must be aware that living men do not possess dead 
hands. That sort of thing doesn't happen. It is, of course, barely possible 
that you did see your brother with another gentleman, and that important 
business prevented him from stopping. As for the wonderful hand, there 
may have been some deformity, a finger shot off by accident, or something 
of that sort.' 

The lady shook her head mournfully. 

'I see you are a determined rationalist,' she said. 'Did you not hear me say 
that I have had experiences even more terrible? I too was once a sceptic, 
but after what I have known I can no longer affect to doubt.' 

'Madam,' replied Mr Phillipps, 'no one shall make me deny my faith. I will 
never believe, nor will I pretend to believe, that two and two make five, nor 
will I on any pretences admit the existence of two-sided triangles.' 


'You are a little hasty,' rejoined the lady. 'But may I ask you if you ever 
heard the name of Professor Gregg, the authority on ethnology and kindred 

'I have done much more than merely hear of Professor Gregg,' said 
Phillipps. 'I always regarded him as one of our most acute and clear-headed 
observers; and his last publication, the Textbook of Ethnology, struck me as 
being quite admirable in its kind. Indeed, the book had but come into my 
hands when I heard of the terrible accident which cut short Gregg's career. 
He had, I think, taken a country house in the West of England for the 
summer, and is supposed to have fallen into a river. So far as I remember, 
his body was never recovered.' 

'Sir, I am sure that you are discreet. Your conversation seems to declare as 
much, and the very title of that little work of yours which you mentioned 
assures me that you are no empty trifler. In a word, I feel that I may depend 
on you. You appear to be under the impression that Professor Gregg is 
dead; I have no reason to believe that that is the case.' 

'What?' cried Phillipps, astonished and perturbed. 

'You do not hint that there was anything disgraceful? I cannot believe it. 
Gregg was a man of clearest character; his private life was one of great 
benevolence; and though I myself am free from delusions, I believe him to 
have been a sincere and devout Christian. Surely you cannot mean to 
insinuate that some disreputable history forced him to flee the country?' 

'Again you are in a hurry,' replied the lady. 'I said nothing of all this. 
Briefly, then, I must tell you that Professor Gregg left his house one 
morning in full health both of mind and body. He never returned, but his 
watch and chain, a purse containing three sovereigns in gold, and some 
loose silver, with a ring that he wore habitually, were found three days later 
on a wild and savage hillside, many miles from the river. These articles 
were placed beside a limestone rock of fantastic form; they had been 
wrapped into a parcel with a kind of rough parchment which was secured 
with gut. The parcel was opened, and the inner side of the parchment bore 


an inscription done with some red substance in the characters were 
undecipherable, but seemed to be a corrupt cuneiform.' 

'You interest me intensely,' said Phillipps. 'Would you mind continuing 
your story? The circumstance you have mentioned seems to me of the most 
inexplicable character, and I thirst for an elucidation.' 

The young lady seemed to meditate for a moment, and she then proceeded 
to relate the 


I must now give you some fuller particulars of my history. I am the 
daughter of a civil engineer, Steven Lally by name, who was so unfortunate 
as to die suddenly at the outset of his career, and before he had accumulated 
sufficient means to support his wife and her two children. My mother 
contrived to keep the small household going on resources which must have 
been incredibly small; we lived in a remote country village, because most 
of the necessaries of life were cheaper than in a town, but even so we were 
brought up with the severest economy. My father was a clever and 
well-read man, and left behind him a small but select collection of books, 
containing the best Greek, Latin, and English classics, and these books 
were the only amusement we possessed. My brother, I remember, learnt 
Latin out of Descartes' Meditationes, and I, in place of the little tales which 
children are usually told to read, had nothing more charming than a 
translation of the Gesta Romanorum. We grew up thus, quiet and studious 
children, and in course of time my brother provided for himself in the 
manner I have mentioned. I continued to live at home: my poor mother had 
become an invalid, and demanded my continual care, and about two years 
ago she died after many months of painful illness. My situation was a 
terrible one; the shabby furniture barely sufficed to pay the debts I had been 
forced to contract, and the books I dispatched to my brother, knowing how 
he would value them. I was absolutely alone; I was aware how poorly my 
brother was paid; and though I came up to London in the hope of finding 
employment, with the understanding that he would defray my expenses, I 
swore it should only be for a month, and that if I could not in that time find 


some work I would starve rather than deprive him of the few miserable 
pounds he had laid by for his day of trouble. I took a little room in a distant 
suburb, the cheapest that I could find; I lived on bread and tea, and I spent 
my time in vain answering of advertisements, and vainer walks to addresses 
I had noted. Day followed on day, and week on week, and still I was 
unsuccessful, till at last the term I had appointed drew to a close, and I saw 
before me the grim prospect of slowly dying of starvation. My landlady 
was good-natured in her way; she knew the slenderness of my means, and I 
am sure that she would not have turned me out of doors; it remained for me 
then to go away, and to try to die in some quiet place. It was winter then, 
and a thick white fog gathered in the early part of the afternoon, becoming 
more dense as the day wore on; it was a Sunday, I remember, and the 
people of the house were at chapel. At about three o'clock I crept out and 
walked away as quickly as I could, for I was weak from abstinence. The 
white mist wrapped all the streets in silence, a hard frost had gathered thick 
upon the bare branches of the trees, and frost crystals glittered on the 
wooden fences, and on the cold, cruel ground beneath my feet. I walked on, 
turning to right and left in utter haphazard, without caring to look up at the 
names of the streets, and all that I remember of my walk on that Sunday 
afternoon seems but the broken fragments of an evil dream. In a confused 
vision I stumbled on through roads half town and half country, grey fields 
melting into the cloudy world of mist on one side of me, and on the other 
comfortable villas with a glow of firelight flickering on the walls, but all 
unreal; red brick walls and lighted windows, vague trees, and glimmering 
country, gas-lamps ing to star the white shadows, the vanishing 
perspectives of the railway line beneath high embankments, the green and 
red of the signal lamps — all these were but momentary pictures flashed on 
my tired brain and senses numbed by hunger. Now and then I would hear a 
quick step ringing on the iron road, and men would pass me well wrapped 
up, walking fast for the sake of warmth, and no doubt eagerly foretasting 
the pleasures of a glowing hearth, with curtains tightly drawn about the 
frosted panes, and the welcomes of their friends, but as the early evening 
darkened and night approached, foot-passengers got fewer and fewer, and I 
passed through street after street alone. In the white silence I stumbled on, 
as desolate as if I trod the streets of a buried city; and as I grew more weak 
and exhausted, something of the horror of death was folding thickly round 


my heart. Suddenly, as I turned a corner, some one accosted me courteously 
beneath the lamp-post, and I heard a voice asking if I could kindly point the 
way to Avon Road. At the sudden shock of human accents I was prostrated, 
and my strength gave way; I fell all huddled on the sidewalk, and wept and 
sobbed and laughed in violent hysteria. I had gone out prepared to die, and 
as I stepped across the threshold that had sheltered me, I consciously bade 
adieu to all hopes and all remembrances; the door clanged behind me with 
the noise of thunder, and I felt that an iron curtain had fallen on the brief 
passage of my life, that henceforth I was to walk a little way in a world of 
gloom and shadow; I entered on the stage of the first act of death. Then 
came my wandering in the mist, the whiteness wrapping all things, the void 
streets, and muffled silence, till when that voice spoke to me it was as if I 
had died and life returned to me. In a few minutes I was able to compose 
my feelings, and as I rose I saw that I was confronted by a middle-aged 
gentleman of pleasing appearance, neatly and correctly dressed. He looked 
at me with an expression of great pity, but before I could stammer out my 
ignorance of the neighbourhood, for indeed I had not the slightest notion of 
where I had wandered, he spoke. 

'My dear madam,' he said, 'you seem in some terrible distress. You cannot 
think how you alarmed me. But may I inquire the nature of your trouble? I 
assure you that you can safely confide in me.' 

'You are very kind,' I replied. 'But I fear there is nothing to be done. My 
condition seems a hopeless one.' 

'Oh, nonsense, nonsense! You are too young to talk like that. Come, let us 
walk down here and you must tell me your difficulty. Perhaps I may be able 
to help you.' 

There was something very soothing and persuasive in his manner, and as 
we walked together I gave him an outline of my story, and told of the 
despair that had oppressed me almost to death. 

'You were wrong to give in so completely,' he said, when I was silent. 'A 
month is too short a time in which to feel one's way in London. London, let 


me tell you, Miss Lally, does not lie open and undefended; it is a fortified 
place, fossed and double-moated with curious intricacies. As must always 
happen in large towns, the conditions of life have become hugely artificial, 
no mere simple palisade is run up to oppose the man or woman who would 
take the place by storm, but serried lines of subtle contrivances, mines, and 
pitfalls which it needs a strange skill to overcome. You, in your simplicity, 
fancied you had only to shout for these walls to sink into nothingness, but 
the time is gone for such startling victories as these. Take courage; you will 
learn the secret of success before very long.' 

'Alas! sir,' I replied, 'I have no doubt your conclusions are correct, but at the 
present moment I seem to be in a fair way to die of starvation. You spoke 
of a secret; for Heaven's sake tell it me, if you have any pity for my 

He laughed genially. 'There lies the strangeness of it all. Those who know 
the secret cannot tell it if they would; it is positively as ineffable as the 
central doctrine of freemasonry. But I may say this, that you yourself have 
penetrated at least the outer husk of the mystery,' and he laughed again. 

'Pray do not jest with me,' I said. 'What have I done, que sais-je! I am so far 
ignorant that I have not the slightest idea of how my next meal is to be 

'Excuse me. You ask what you have done. You have met me. Come, we 
will fence no longer. I see you have self-education, the only education 
which is not infinitely pernicious and I am in want of a governess for my 
two children. I have been a widower for some years; my name is Gregg. I 
offer you the post I have named, and shall we say a salary of a hundred a 

I could only stutter out my thanks, and slipping a card with his address, and 
a banknote by way of earnest, into my hand, Mr Gregg bade me good-bye, 
asking me to call in a day or two. 


Such was my introduction to Professor Gregg, and can you wonder that the 
remembrance of despair and the cold blast that had blown from the gates of 
death upon me made me regard him as a second father? Before the close of 
the week I was installed in my new duties. The Professor had leased an old 
brick manor-house in a western suburb of London, and here, surrounded by 
pleasant lawns and orchards, and soothed with the murmur of ancient elms 
that rocked their boughs above the roof, the new chapter of my life began. 
Knowing as you do the nature of the professor's occupation, you will not be 
surprised to hear that the house teemed with books, and cabinets full of 
strange, and even hideous, objects filled every available nook in the vast 
low rooms. Gregg was a man whose one thought was for knowledge, and I 
too before long caught something of his enthusiasm, and strove to enter into 
his passion of research. In a few months I was perhaps more his secretary 
than the governess of the two children, and many a night I have sat at the 
desk in the glow of the shaded lamp while he, pacing up and down in the 
rich gloom of the firelight, dictated to me the substance of his Textbook of 
Ethnology. But amidst these more sober and accurate studies I always 
detected a something hidden, a longing and desire for some object to which 
he did not allude; and now and then he would break short in what he was 
saying and lapse into reverie, entranced, as it seemed to me, by some 
distant prospect of adventurous discovery. The textbook was at last 
finished, and we began to receive proofs from the printers, which were 
entrusted to me for a first reading, and then underwent the final revision of 
the professor. All the while his wariness of the actual business he was 
engaged on increased, and it was with the joyous laugh of a schoolboy 
when term is over that he one day handed me a copy of the book. There,' 
he said, 'I have kept my word; I promised to write it, and it is done with. 
Now I shall be free to live for stranger things; I confess it, Miss Lally, I 
covet the renown of Columbus; you will, I hope, see me play the part of an 

'Surely,' I said, 'there is little left to explore. You have been born a few 
hundred years too late for that.' 

'I think you, are wrong,' he replied; 'there are still, depend upon it, quaint, 
undiscovered countries and continents of strange extent. Ah, Miss Lally! 


believe me, we stand amidst sacraments and mysteries full of awe, and it 
doth not yet appear what we shall be. Life, believe me, is no simple thing, 
no mass of grey matter and congeries of veins and muscles to be laid naked 
by the surgeon's knife; man is the secret which I am about to explore, and 
before I can discover him I must cross over weltering seas indeed, and 
oceans and the mists of many thousand years. You know the myth of the 
lost Atlantis; what if it be true, and I am destined to be called the discoverer 
of that wonderful land?' 

I could see excitement boiling beneath his words, and in his face was the 
heat of the hunter; before me stood a man who believed himself summoned 
to tourney with the unknown. A pang of joy possessed me when I reflected 
that I was to be in a way associated with him in the adventure, and I, too, 
burned with the lust of the chase, not pausing to consider that I knew not 
what we were to unshadow. 

The next morning Professor Gregg took me into his inner study, where, 
ranged against the wall, stood a nest of pigeonholes, every drawer neatly 
labelled, and the results of years of toil classified in a few feet of space. 

'Here,' he said, 'is my life; here are all the facts which I have gathered 
together with so much pains, and yet it is all nothing. No, nothing to what I 
am about to attempt. Look at this;' and he took me to an old bureau, a piece 
fantastic and faded, which stood in a corner of the room. He unlocked the 
front and opened one of the drawers. 

'A few scraps of paper,' he went on, pointing to the drawer, 'and a lump of 
black stone, rudely annotated with queer marks and scratches - that is all 
that the drawer holds. Here you see is an old envelope with the dark red 
stamp of twenty years ago, but I have pencilled a few lines at the back; here 
is a sheet of manuscript, and here some cuttings from obscure local 
journals. And if you ask me the subject-matter of the collection, it will not 
seem extraordinary — a servant-girl at a farmhouse, who disappeared from 
her place and has never been heard of, a child supposed to have slipped 
down some old working on the mountains, some queer scribbling on a 
limestone rock, a man murdered with a blow from a strange weapon; such 


is the scent I have to go upon. Yes, as you say, there is a ready explanation 
for all this; the girl may have run away to London, or Liverpool, or New 
York; the child may be at the bottom of the disused shaft; and the letters on 
the rock may be the idle whims of some vagrant. Yes, yes, I admit all that; 
but I know I hold the true key. Look!' and he held out a slip of yellow 

Characters found inscribed on a limestone rock on the Grey Hills, I read, 
and then there was a word erased, presumably the name of a county, and a 
date some fifteen years back. Beneath was traced a number of uncouth 
characters, shaped somewhat like wedges or daggers, as strange and 
outlandish as the Hebrew alphabet. 

'Now the seal,' said Professor Gregg, and he handed me the black stone, a 
thing about two inches long, and something like an old-fashioned 
tobacco-stopper, much enlarged. 

I held it up to the light, and saw to my surprise the characters on the paper 
repeated on the seal. 

'Yes,' said the professor, 'they are the same. And the marks on the limestone 
rock were made fifteen years ago, with some red substance. And the 
characters on the seal are four thousand years old at least. Perhaps much 

'Is it a hoax?' I said. 

'No, I anticipated that. I was not to be led to give my life to a practical joke. 
I have tested the matter very carefully. Only one person besides myself 
knows of the mere existence of that black seal. Besides, there are other 
reasons which I cannot enter into now.' 

'But what does it all mean?' I said. 'I cannot understand to what conclusion 
all this leads.' 


'My dear Miss Lally, that is a question that I would rather leave unanswered 
for some little time. Perhaps I shall never be able to say what secrets are 
held here in solution; a few vague hints, the outlines of village tragedies, a 
few marks done with red earth upon a rock, and an ancient seal. A queer set 
of data to go upon? Half a dozen pieces of evidence, and twenty years 
before even so much could be got together; and who knows what mirage or 
terra incognita may be beyond all this? I look across deep waters, Miss 
Lally, and the land beyond may be but a haze after all. But still I believe it 
is not so, and a few months will show whether I am right or wrong.' 

He left me, and alone I endeavoured to fathom the mystery, wondering to 
what goal such eccentric odds and ends of evidence could lead. I myself am 
not wholly devoid of imagination, and I had reason to respect the 
professor's solidity of intellect; yet I saw in the contents of the drawers but 
the materials of fantasy, and vainly tried to conceive what theory could be 
founded on the fragments that had been placed before me. Indeed, I could 
discover in what I had heard and seen but the first chapter of an extravagant 
romance; and yet deep in my heart I burned with curiosity, and day after 
day I looked eagerly in Professor Gregg's face for some hint of what was to 

It was one evening after dinner that the word came. 

'I hope you can make your preparations without much trouble,' he said 
suddenly to me. 'We shall be leaving here in a week's time.' 

'Really!' I said in astonishment. 'Where are we going?' 

'I have taken a country house in the west of England, not far from 
Caermaen, a quiet little town, once a city, and the headquarters of a Roman 
legion. It is very dull there, but the country is pretty, and the air is 

I detected a glint in his eyes, and guessed that this sudden move had some 
relation to our conversation of a few days before. 


'I shall just take a few books with me,' said Professor Gregg, 'that is all. 
Everything else will remain here for our return. I have got a holiday,' he 
went on, smiling at me, 'and I shan't be sorry to be quit for a time of my old 
bones and stones and rubbish. Do you know,' he went on, 'I have been 
grinding away at facts for thirty years; it is time for fancies.' 

The days passed quickly; I could see that the professor was all quivering 
with suppressed excitement, and I could scarce credit the eager appetence 
of his glance as we left the old manor-house behind us and began our 
journey. We set out at midday, and it was in the dusk of the evening that we 
arrived at a little country station. I was tired and excited, and the drive 
through the lanes seems all a dream. First the deserted streets of a forgotten 
village, while I heard Professor Gregg's voice talking of the Augustan 
Legion and the clash of arms, and all the tremendous pomp that followed 
the eagles; then the broad river swimming to full tide with the last 
afterglow glimmering duskily in the yellow water, the wide meadows, the 
cornfields whitening, and the deep lane winding on the slope between the 
hills and the water. At last we began to ascend, and the air grew rarer. I 
looked down and saw the pure white mist tracking the outline of the river 
like a shroud, and a vague and shadowy country; imaginations and fantasy 
of swelling hills and hanging woods, and half-shaped outlines of hills 
beyond, and in the distance the glare of the furnace fire on the mountain, 
glowing by turns a pillar of shining flame and fading to a dull point of red. 
We were slowly mounting a carriage drive, and then there came to me the 
cool breath and the secret of the great wood that was above us; I seemed to 
wander in its deepest depths, and there was the sound of trickling water, the 
scent of the green leaves, and the breath of the summer night. The carriage 
stopped at last, and I could scarcely distinguish the form of the house, as I 
waited a moment at the pillared porch. The rest of the evening seemed a 
dream of strange things bounded by the great silence of the wood and the 
valley and the river. 

The next morning, when I awoke and looked out of the bow window of the 
big, old-fashioned bedroom, I saw under a grey sky a country that was still 
all mystery. The long, lovely valley, with the river winding in and out 
below, crossed in mid-vision by a mediaeval bridge of vaulted and 


buttressed stone, the clear presence of the rising ground beyond, and the 
woods that I had only seen in shadow the night before, seemed tinged with 
enchantment, and the soft breath of air that sighed in at the opened pane 
was like no other wind. I looked across the valley, and beyond, hill 
followed on hill as wave on wave, and here a faint blue pillar of smoke rose 
still in the morning air from the chimney of an ancient grey farmhouse, 
there was a rugged height crowned with dark firs, and in the distance I saw 
the white streak of a road that climbed and vanished into some unimagined 
country. But the boundary of all was a great wall of mountain, vast in the 
west, and ending like a fortress with a steep ascent and a domed tumulus 
clear against the sky. 

I saw Professor Gregg walking up and down the terrace path below the 
windows, and it was evident that he was revelling in the sense of liberty, 
and the thought that he had for a while bidden good-bye to task-work. 
When I joined him there was exultation in his voice as he pointed out the 
sweep of valley and the river that wound beneath the lovely hills. 

'Yes,' he said, 'it is a strangely beautiful country; and to me, at least, it 
seems full of mystery. You have not forgotten the drawer I showed you, 
Miss Lally? No; and you have guessed that I have come here not merely for 
the sake of the children and the fresh air?' 

'I think I have guessed as much as that,' I replied; 'but you must remember I 
do not know the mere nature of your investigations; and as for the 
connection between the search and this wonderful valley, it is past my 

He smiled queerly at me. 'You must not think I am making a mystery for 
the sake of mystery,' he said. 'I do not speak out because, so far, there is 
nothing to be spoken, nothing definite, I mean, nothing that can be set 
down in hard black and white, as dull and sure and irreproachable as any 
blue-book. And then I have another reason: Many years ago a chance 
paragraph in a newspaper caught my attention, and focussed in an instant 
the vagrant thoughts and half- formed fancies of many idle and speculative 
hours into a certain hypothesis. I saw at once that I was treading on a thin 


crust; my theory was wild and fantastic in the extreme, and I would not for 
any consideration have written a hint of it for publication. But I thought 
that in the company of scientific men like myself, men who knew the 
course of discovery, and were aware that the gas that blazes and flares in 
the gin-palace was once a wild hypothesis - I thought that with such men 
as these I might hazard my dream - let us say Atlantis, or the philosopher's 
stone, or what you like — without danger of ridicule. I found I was grossly 
mistaken; my friends looked blankly at me and at one another, and I could 
see something of pity, and something also of insolent contempt, in the 
glances they exchanged. One of them called on me next day, and hinted 
that I must be suffering from overwork and brain exhaustion. "In plain 
terms," I said, "you think I am going mad. I think not"; and I showed him 
out with some little appearance of heat. Since that day I vowed that I would 
never whisper the nature of my theory to any living soul; to no one but 
yourself have I ever shown the contents of that drawer. After all, I may be 
following a rainbow; I may have been misled by the play of coincidence; 
but as I stand here in this mystic hush and silence, amidst the woods and 
wild hills, I am more than ever sure that I am hot on the scent. Come, it is 
time we went in.' 

To me in all this there was something both of wonder and excitement; I 
knew how in his ordinary work Professor Gregg moved step by step, testing 
every inch of the way, and never venturing on assertion without proof that 
was impregnable. Yet I divined, more from his glance and the vehemence 
of his tone than from the spoken word, that he had in his every thought the 
vision of the almost incredible continually with him; and I, who was with 
some share of imagination no little of a sceptic, offended at a hint of the 
marvellous, could not help asking myself whether he were cherishing a 
monomania, and barring out from this one subject all the scientific method 
of his other life. 

Yet, with this image of mystery haunting my thoughts, I surrendered 
wholly to the charm of the country. Above the faded house on the hillside 
began the great forest - a long, dark line seen from the opposing hills, 
stretching above the river for many a mile from north to south, and yielding 
in the north to even wilder country, barren and savage hills, and ragged 


commonland, a territory all strange and unvisited, and more unknown to 
Englishmen than the very heart of Africa. The space of a couple of steep 
fields alone separated the house from the woods, and the children were 
delighted to follow me up the long alleys of undergrowth, between smooth 
pleached walls of shining beech, to the highest point in the wood, whence 
one looked on one side across the river and the rise and fall of the country 
to the great western mountain wall, and on the other over the surge and dip 
of the myriad trees of the forest, over level meadows and the shining 
yellow sea to the faint coast beyond. I used to sit at this point on the warm 
sunlit turf which marked the track of the Roman Road, while the two 
children raced about hunting for the whinberries that grew here and there 
on the banks. Here, beneath the deep blue sky and the great clouds rolling, 
like olden galleons with sails full-bellied, from the sea to the hills, as I 
listened to the whispered charm of the great and ancient wood, I lived 
solely for delight, and only remembered strange things when we would 
return to the house and find Professor Gregg either shut up in the little 
room he had made his study, or else pacing the terrace with the look, 
patient and enthusiastic, of the determined seeker. 

One morning, some eight or nine days after our arrival, I looked out of my 
window and saw the whole landscape transmuted before me. The clouds 
had dipped low and hidden the mountain in the west; a southern wind was 
driving the rain in shifting pillars up the valley, and the little brooklet that 
burst the hill below the house now raged, a red torrent, down the river. We 
were perforce obliged to keep snug within-doors; and when I had attended 
to my pupils, I sat down in the morning-room, where the ruins of a library 
still encumbered an old-fashioned bookcase. I had inspected the shelves 
once or twice, but their contents had failed to attract me; volumes of 
eighteenth-century sermons, an old book on farriery, a collection of Poems 
by 'persons of quality,' Prideaus's Connection, and an odd volume of Pope, 
were the boundaries of the library, and there seemed little doubt that 
everything of interest or value had been removed. Now, however, in 
desperation, I began to re-examine the musty sheepskin and calf bindings, 
and found, much to my delight, a fine old quarto printed by the Stephani, 
containing the three books of Pomponius Mela, De Situ Orbis, and other of 
the ancient geographers. I knew enough of Latin to steer my way through 


an ordinary sentence, and I soon became absorbed in the odd mixture of 
fact and fancy - light shining on a little of the space of the world, and 
beyond, mist and shadow and awful forms. Glancing over the clear-printed 
pages, my attention was caught by the heading of a chapter in Solinus, and 
I read the words: 


- The wonders of the people that inhabit the inner parts of Libya, and of 
the stone called Sixty stone.' 

The odd title attracted me, and I read on:- 'Gens ista avia er secreta habitat, 
in montibus horrendis foeda mysteria celebrat. De hominibus nihil aliud illi 
praeferunt quam figuram, ab humano ritu prorsus exulant, oderunt deum 
lucis. Stridunt potius quam loquuntur; vox absona nee sine horrore auditur. 
Lapide quodam gloriantur, quern Hexecontalithon vocant; dicunt enim hunc 
lapidem sexaginta notas ostendere. Cujus lapidis nomen secretum ineffabile 
colunt: quod Ixaxar.' 

'This folk,' I translated to myself, 'dwells in remote and secret places, and 
celebrates foul mysteries on savage hills. Nothing have they in common 
with men save the face, and the customs of humanity are wholly strange to 
them; and they hate the sun. They hiss rather than speak; their voices are 
harsh, and not to be heard without fear. They boast of a certain stone, which 
they call Sixtystone; for they say that it displays sixty characters. And this 
stone has a secret unspeakable name; which is Ixaxar.' 

I laughed at the queer inconsequence of all this, and thought it fit for 
'Sinbad the Sailor,' or other of the supplementary Nights. When I saw 
Professor Gregg in the course of the day, I told him of my find in the 
bookcase, and the fantastic rubbish I had been reading. To my surprise he 
looked up at me with an expression of great interest. 

'That is really very curious,' he said. 'I have never thought it worth while to 
look into the old geographers, and I dare say I have missed a good deal. Ah, 


that is the passage, is it? It seems a shame to rob you of your entertainment, 
but I really think I must carry off the book.' 

The next day the professor called me to come to the study. I found him 
sitting at a table in the full light of the window, scrutinizing something very 
attentively with a magnifying glass. 

'Ah, Miss Lally,' he began, 'I want to use your eyes. This glass is pretty 
good, but not like my old one that I left in town. Would you mind 
examining the thing yourself, and telling me how many characters are cut 
on it?' 

He handed me the object in his hand. I saw that it was the black seal he had 
shown me in London, and my heart began to beat with the thought that I 
was presently to know something. I took the seal, and, holding it up to the 
light, checked off the grotesque dagger-shaped characters one by one. 

'I make sixty-two,' I said at last. 

'Sixty-two? Nonsense; it's impossible. Ah, I see what you have done, you 
have counted that and that,' and he pointed to two marks which I had 
certainly taken for letters with the rest. 

'Yes, yes,' Professor Gregg went on, 'but those are obvious scratches, done 
accidentally; I saw that at once. Yes, then that's quite right. Thank you very 
much, Miss Lally.' 

I was going away, rather disappointed at my having been called in merely 
to count a number of marks on the black seal, when suddenly there flashed 
into my mind what I had read in the morning. 

'But, Professor Gregg,' I cried, breathless, 'the seal, the seal. Why, it is the 
stone Hexecontalithos that Solinus writes of; it is Ixaxar.' 

'Yes,' he said, 'I suppose it is. Or it may be a mere coincidence. It never 
does to be too sure, you know, in these matters. Coincidence killed the 



I went away puzzled by what I had heard, and as much as ever at a loss to 
find the ruling clue in this maze of strange evidence. For three days the bad 
weather lasted, changing from driving rain to a dense mist, fine and 
dripping, and we seemed to be shut up in a white cloud that veiled all the 
world away from us. All the while Professor Gregg was darkling in his 
room, unwilling, it appeared, to dispense confidences or talk of any kind, 
and I heard him walking to and fro with a quick, impatient step, as if he 
were in some way wearied of inaction. The fourth morning was fine, and at 
breakfast the professor said briskly: 

'We want some extra help about the house; a boy of fifteen or sixteen, you 
know. There are a lot of little odd jobs that take up the maids' time which a 
boy could do much better.' 

'The girls have not complained to me in any way,' I replied. 'Indeed, Anne 
said there was much less work than in London, owing to there being so 
little dust.' 

'Ah, yes, they are very good girls. But I think we shall do much better with 
a boy. In fact, that is what has been bothering me for the last two days.' 

'Bothering you?' I said in astonishment, for as a matter of fact the professor 
never took the slightest interest in the affairs of the house. 

'Yes,' he said, 'the weather, you know. I really couldn't go out in that Scotch 
mist; I don't know the country very well, and I should have lost my way. 
But I am going to get the boy this morning.' 

'But how do you know there is such a boy as you want anywhere about?' 

'Oh, I have no doubt as to that. I may have to walk a mile or two at the 
most, but I am sure to find just the boy I require.' 


I thought the professor was joking, but, though his tone was airy enough, 
there was something grim and set about his features that puzzled me. He 
got his stick, and stood at the door looking meditatively before him, and as 
I passed through the hall he called to me. 

'By the way, Miss Lally, there was one thing I wanted to say to you. I dare 
say you may have heard that some of these country lads are not over-bright; 
idiotic would be a harsh word to use, and they are usually called "naturals", 
or something of the kind. I hope you won't mind if the boy I am after 
should turn out not too keen-witted; he will be perfectly harmless, of 
course, and blacking boots doesn't need much mental effort.' 

With that he was gone, striding up the road that led to the wood, and I 
remained stupefied; and then for the first time my astonishment was 
mingled with a sudden note of terror, arising I knew not whence, and all 
unexplained even to myself, and yet I felt about my heart for an instant 
something of the chill of death, and that shapeless, formless dread of the 
unknown that is worse than death itself. I tried to find courage in the sweet 
air that blew up from the sea, and in the sunlight after rain, but the mystic 
woods seemed to darken around me; and the vision of the river coiling 
between the reeds, and the silver grey of the ancient bridge, fashioned in 
my mind symbols of vague dread, as the mind of a child fashions terror 
from things harmless and familiar. 

Two hours later Professor Gregg returned. I met him as he came down the 
road, and asked quietly if he had been able to find a boy. 

'Oh, yes.' he answered; 'I found one easily enough. His name is Jervase 
Cradock, and I expect he will make himself very useful. His father has been 
dead for many years, and the mother, whom I saw, seemed very glad at the 
prospect of a few shillings extra coming in on Saturday nights. As I 
expected, he is not too sharp, has fits at times, the mother said; but as he 
will not be trusted with the china, that doesn't much matter, does it? And he 
is not in any way dangerous, you know, merely a little weak.' 

'When is he coming?' 


To-morrow morning at eight o'clock. Anne will show him what he has to 
do, and how to do it. At first he will go home every night, but perhaps it 
may ultimately turn out more convenient for him to sleep here, and only go 
home for Sundays.' 

I found nothing to say to all this; Professor Gregg spoke in a quiet tone of 
matter-of-fact, as indeed was warranted by the circumstance; and yet I 
could not quell my sensation of astonishment at the whole affair. I knew 
that in reality no assistance was wanted in the housework, and the 
professor's prediction that the boy he was to engage might prove a little 
'simple', followed by so exact a fulfilment, struck me as bizarre in the 
extreme. The next morning I heard from the housemaid that the boy 
Cradock had come at eight, and that she had been trying to make him 
useful. 'He doesn't seem quite all there, I don't think, miss,' was her 
comment, and later in the day I saw him helping the old man who worked 
in the garden. He was a youth of about fourteen, with black hair and black 
eyes and an olive skin, and I saw at once from the curious vacancy of his 
expression that he was mentally weak. He touched his forehead awkwardly 
as I went by, and I heard him answering the gardener in a queer, harsh 
voice that caught my attention; it gave me the impression of some one 
speaking deep below under the earth, and there was a strange sibilance, like 
the hissing of the phonograph as the pointer travels over the cylinder. I 
heard that he seemed anxious to do what he could, and was quite docile and 
obedient, and Morgan the gardener, who knew his mother, assured me he 
was perfectly harmless. 'He's always been a bit queer,' he said, 'and no 
wonder, after what his mother went through before he was born. I did know 
his father, Thomas Cradock, well, and a very fine workman he was too, 
indeed. He got something wrong with his lungs owing to working in the 
wet woods, and never got over it, and went off quite sudden like. And they 
do say as how Mrs Cradock was quite off her head: anyhow, she was found 
by Mr Hilly er, Ty Coch, all crouched up on the Grey Hills, over there, 
crying and weeping like a lost soul. And Jervase, he was born about eight 
months afterwards, and, as I was saying, he was a bit queer always; and 
they do say when he could scarcely walk he would frighten the other 
children into fits with the noises he would make.' 


A word in the story had stirred up some remembrance within me, and, 
vaguely curious, I asked the old man where the Grey Hills were. 

'Up there,' he said, with the same gesture he had used before; 'you go past 
the Fox and Hounds, and through the forest, by the old ruins. It's a good 
five mile from here, and a strange sort of a place. The poorest soil between 
this and Monmouth, they do say, though it's good feed for sheep. Yes, it 
was a sad thing for poor Mrs Cradock.' 

The old man turned to his work, and I strolled on down the path between 
the espaliers, gnarled and gouty with age, thinking of the story I had heard, 
and groping for the point in it that had some key to my memory. In an 
instant it came before me; I had seen the phrase 'Grey Hills' on the slip of 
yellowed paper that Professor Gregg had taken from the drawer in his 
cabinet. Again I was seized with pangs of mingled curiosity and fear; I 
remembered the strange characters copied from the limestone rock, and 
then again their identity with the inscription of the age-old seal, and the 
fantastic fables of the Latin geographer. I saw beyond doubt that, unless 
coincidence had set all the scene and disposed all these bizarre events with 
curious art, I was to be a spectator of things far removed from the usual and 
customary traffic and jostle of life. Professor Gregg I noted day by day; he 
was hot on his trail, growing lean with eagerness; and in the evenings, 
when the sun was swimming on the verge of the mountain, he would pace 
the terrace to and fro with his eyes on the ground, while the mist grew 
white in the valley, and the stillness of the evening brought far voices near, 
and the blue smoke rose a straight column from the diamond-shaped 
chimney of the grey farmhouse, just as I had seen it on the first morning. I 
have told you I was of sceptical habit; but though I understood little or 
nothing, I began to dread, vainly proposing to myself the iterated dogmas 
of science that all life is material, and that in the system of things there is 
no undiscovered land, even beyond the remotest stars, where the 
supernatural can find a footing. Yet there struck in on this the thought that 
matter is as really awful and unknown as spirit, that science itself but 
dallies on the threshold, scarcely gaining more than a glimpse of the 
wonders of the inner place. 


There is one day that stands up from amidst the others as a grim red 
beacon, betokening evil to come. I was sitting on a bench in the garden, 
watching the boy Cradock weeding, when I was suddenly alarmed by a 
harsh and choking sound, like the cry of a wild beast in anguish, and I was 
unspeakably shocked to see the unfortunate lad standing in full view before 
me, his whole body quivering and shaking at short intervals as though 
shocks of electricity were passing through him, his teeth grinding, foam 
gathering on his lips, and his face all swollen and blackened to a hideous 
mask of humanity. I shrieked with terror, and Professor Gregg came 
running; and as I pointed to Cradock, the boy with one convulsive shudder 
fell face forward, and lay on the wet earth, his body writhing like a 
wounded blind-worm, and an inconceivable babble of sounds bursting and 
rattling and hissing from his lips. He seemed to pour forth an infamous 
jargon, with words, or what seemed words, that might have belonged to a 
tongue dead since untold ages and buried deep beneath Nilotic mud, or in 
the inmost recesses of the Mexican forest. For a moment the thought passed 
through my mind, as my ears were still revolted with that infernal clamour, 
'Surely this is the very speech of hell,' and then I cried out again and again, 
and ran away shuddering to my inmost soul. I had seen Professor Gregg's 
face as he stooped over the wretched boy and raised him, and I was 
appalled by the glow of exultation that shone on every lineament and 
feature. As I sat in my room with drawn blinds, and my eyes hidden in my 
hands, I heard heavy steps beneath, and I was told afterwards that Professor 
Gregg had carried Cradock to his study, and had locked the door. I heard 
voices murmur indistinctly, and I trembled to think of what might be 
passing within a few feet of where I sat; I longed to escape to the woods 
and sunshine, and yet I dreaded the sights that might confront me on the 
way; and at last, as I held the handle of the door nervously, I heard 
Professor Gregg's voice calling to me with a cheerful ring. 'It's all right 
now, Miss Lally,' he said. 'The poor fellow has got over it, and I have been 
arranging for him to sleep here after tomorrow. Perhaps I may be able to do 
something for him.' 

'Yes,' he said later, 'it was a very painful sight, and I don't wonder you were 
alarmed. We may hope that good food will build him up a little, but I am 
afraid he will never be really cured,' and he affected the dismal and 


conventional air with which one speaks of hopeless illness; and yet beneath 
it I detected the delight that leapt up rampant within him, and fought and 
struggled to find utterance. It was as if one glanced down on the even 
surface of the sea, clear and immobile, and saw beneath raging depths and a 
storm of contending billows. It was indeed to me a torturing and offensive 
problem that this man, who had so bounteously rescued me from the 
sharpness of death, and showed himself in all the relations of life full of 
benevolence, and pity, and kindly forethought, should so manifestly be for 
once on the side of the demons, and take a ghastly pleasure in the torments 
of an afflicted fellow creature. Apart, I struggled with the horned difficulty, 
and strove to find the solution; but without the hint of a clue, beset by 
mystery and contradiction. I saw nothing that might help me, and began to 
wonder whether, after all, I had not escaped from the white mist of the 
suburb at too dear a rate. I hinted something of my thought to the professor; 
I said enough to let him know that I was in the most acute perplexity, but 
the moment after regretted what I had done when I saw his face contort 
with a spasm of pain. 

'My dear Miss Lally,' he said, 'you surely do not wish to leave us? No, no, 
you would not do it. You do not know how I rely on you; how confidently I 
go forward, assured that you are here to watch over my children. You, Miss 
Lally, are my rear-guard; for let me tell you the business in which I am 
engaged is not wholly devoid of peril. You have not forgotten what I said 
the first morning here; my lips are shut by an old and firm resolve till they 
can open to utter no ingenious hypothesis or vague surmise, but irrefragable 
fact, as certain as a demonstration in mathematics. Think over it, Miss 
Lally; not for a moment would I endeavour to keep you here against your 
own instincts, and yet I tell you frankly that I am persuaded it is here, here 
amidst the woods, that your duty lies.' 

I was touched by the eloquence of his tone, and by the remembrance that 
the man, after all, had been my salvation, and I gave him my hand on a 
promise to serve him loyally and without question. A few days later the 
rector of our church — a little church, grey and severe and quaint, that 
hovered on the very banks of the river and watched the tides swim and 
return — came to see us, and Professor Gregg easily persuaded him to stay 


and share our dinner. Mr Meyrick was a member of an antique family of 
squires, whose old manor-house stood amongst the hills some seven miles 
away, and thus rooted in the soil, the rector was a living store of all the old 
fading customs and lore of the country. His manner, genial, with a deal of 
retired oddity, won on Professor Gregg; and towards the cheese, when a 
curious Burgundy had begun its incantations, the two men glowed like the 
wine, and talked of philology with the enthusiasm of a burgess over the 
peerage. The parson was expounding the pronunciation of the Welsh //, and 
producing sounds like the gurgle of his native brooks, when Professor 
Gregg struck in. 

'By the way,' he said, 'that was a very odd word I met with the other day. 
You know my boy, poor Jervase Cradock? Well, he has got the bad habit of 
talking to himself, and the day before yesterday I was walking in the garden 
here and heard him; he was evidently quite unconscious of my presence. A 
lot of what he said I couldn't make out, but one word struck me distinctly. It 
was such an odd sound, half sibilant, half guttural, and as quaint as those 
double /s you have been demonstrating. I do not know whether I can give 
you an idea of the sound; "Ishakshar" is perhaps as near as I can get. But 
the k ought to be a Greek chi or a Spanish j. Now what does it mean in 

'In Welsh?' said the parson. 'There is no such word in Welsh, nor any word 
remotely resembling it. I know the book- Welsh, as they call it, and the 
colloquial dialects as well as any man, but there's no word like that from 
Anglesea to Usk. Besides, none of the Cradocks speak a word of Welsh; it's 
dying out about here.' 

'Really. You interest me extremely, Mr Meyrick. I confess the word didn't 
strike me as having the Welsh ring. But I thought it might be some local 

'No, I never heard such a word, or anything like it. Indeed,' he added, 
smiling whimsically, 'if it belongs to any language, I should say it must be 
that of the fairies - the Tylwydd Teg, as we call them.' 


The talk went on to the discovery of a Roman villa in the neighbourhood; 
and soon after I left the room, and sat down apart to wonder at the drawing 
together of such strange clues of evidence. As the professor had spoken of 
the curious word, I had caught the glint in his eye upon me; and though the 
pronunciation he gave was grotesque in the extreme, I recognized the name 
of the stone of sixty characters mentioned by Solinus, the black seal shut up 
in some secret drawer of the study, stamped for ever by a vanished race 
with signs that no man could read, signs that might, for all I knew, be the 
veils of awful things done long ago, and forgotten before the hills were 
moulded into form. 

When the next morning I came down, I found Professor Gregg pacing the 
terrace in his eternal walk. 

'Look at that bridge,' he said, when he saw me; 'observe the quaint and 
Gothic design, the angles between the arches, and the silvery grey of the 
stone in the awe of the morning light. I confess it seems to me symbolic; it 
should illustrate a mystical allegory of the passage from one world to 

'Professor Gregg,' I said quietly, 'it is time that I knew something of what 
has happened, and of what is to happen.' 

For the moment he put me off, but I returned again with the same question 
in the evening, and then Professor Gregg flamed with excitement. 'Don't 
you understand yet?' he cried. 'But I have told you a good deal; yes, and 
shown you a good deal; you have heard pretty nearly all that I have heard, 
and seen what I have seen; or at least,' and his voice chilled as he spoke, 
'enough to make a good deal clear as noonday. The servants told you, I 
have no doubt, that the wretched boy Cradock had another seizure the night 
before last; he awoke me with cries in that voice you heard in the garden, 
and I went to him, and God forbid you should see what I saw that night. 
But all this is useless; my time here is drawing to a close; I must be back in 
town in three weeks, as I have a course of lectures to prepare, and need all 
my books about me. In a very few days it will be all over, and I shall no 
longer hint, and no longer be liable to ridicule as a madman and a quack. 


No, I shall speak plainly, and I shall be heard with such emotions as 
perhaps no other man has ever drawn from the breasts of his fellows.' 

He paused, and seemed to grow radiant with the joy of great and wonderful 

'But all that is for the future, the near future certainly, but still the future,' he 
went on at length. 'There is something to be done yet; you will remember 
my telling you that my researches were not altogether devoid of peril? Yes, 
there, is a certain amount of danger to be faced; I did not know how much 
when I spoke on the subject before, and to a certain extent I am still in the 
dark. But it will be a strange adventure, the last of all, the last 
demonstration in the chain.' 

He was walking up and down the room as he spoke, and I could hear in his 
voice the contending tones of exultation and despondence, or perhaps I 
should say awe, the awe of a man who goes forth on unknown waters, and I 
thought of his allusion to Columbus on the night he had laid his book 
before me. The evening was a little chilly, and a fire of logs had been 
lighted in the study where we were; the remittent flame and the glow on the 
walls reminded me of the old days. I was sitting silent in an armchair by the 
fire, wondering over all I had heard, and still vainly speculating as to the 
secret springs concealed from me under all the phantasmagoria I had 
witnessed, when I became suddenly aware of a sensation that change of 
some sort had been at work in the room, and that there was something 
unfamiliar in its aspect. For some time I looked about me, trying in vain to 
localize the alteration that I knew had been made; the table by the window, 
the chairs, the faded settee were all as I had known them. Suddenly, as a 
sought-for recollection flashes into the mind, I knew what was amiss. I was 
facing the professor's desk, which stood on the other side of the fire, and 
above the desk was a grimy-looking bust of Pitt, that I had never seen there 
before. And then I remembered the true position of this work of art; in the 
furthest corner by the door was an old cupboard, projecting into the room, 
and on the top of the cupboard, fifteen feet from the floor, the bust had 
been, and there, no doubt, it had delayed, accumulating dirt, since the early 
days of the century. 


I was utterly amazed, and sat silent, still in a confusion of thought. There 
was, so far as I knew, no such thing as a stepladder in the house, for I had 
asked for one to make some alteration in the curtains of my room, and a tall 
man standing on a chair would have found it impossible to take down the 
bust. It had been placed, not on the edge of the cupboard, but far back 
against the wall; and Professor Gregg was, if anything, under the average 

'How on earth did you manage to get down Pitt?' I said at last. 

The professor looked curiously at me, and seemed to hesitate a little. 

'They must have found you a step-ladder, or perhaps the gardener brought 
in a short ladder from outside?' 

'No, I have had no ladder of any kind. Now, Miss Lally,' he went on with an 
awkward simulation of jest, 'there is a little puzzle for you; a problem in the 
manner of the inimitable Holmes; there are the facts, plain and patent: 
summon your acuteness to the solution of the puzzle. For Heaven's sake,' he 
cried with a breaking voice, 'say no more about it! I tell you, I never 
touched the thing,' and he went out of the room with horror manifest on his 
face, and his hand shook and jarred the door behind him. 

I looked round the room in vague surprise, not at all realizing what had 
happened, making vain and idle surmises by way of explanation, and 
wondering at the stirring of black waters by an idle word and the trivial 
change of an ornament. 'This is some petty business, some whim on which I 
have jarred.' I reflected; 'the professor is perhaps scrupulous and 
superstitious over trifles, and my question may have outraged 
unacknowledged fears, as though one killed a spider or spilled the salt 
before the very eyes of a practical Scotchwoman.' I was immersed in these 
fond suspicions, and began to plume myself a little on my immunity from 
such empty fears, when the truth fell heavily as lead upon my heart, and I 
recognized with cold terror that some awful influence had been at work. 
The bust was simply inaccessible; without a ladder no one could have 
touched it. 


I went out to the kitchen and spoke as quietly as I could to the housemaid. 

'Who moved that bust from the top of the cupboard, Anne?' I said to her. 
'Professor Gregg says he has not touched it. Did you find an old step-ladder 
in one of the outhouses?' 

The girl looked at me blankly. 

'I never touched it,' she said. 'I found it where it is now the other morning 
when I dusted the room. I remember now, it was Wednesday morning, 
because it was the morning after Cradock was taken bad in the night. My 
room is next to his, you know, miss,' the girl went on piteously, 'and it was 
awful to hear how he cried and called out names that I couldn't understand. 
It made me feel all afraid; and then master came, and I heard him speak, 
and he took down Cradock to the study and gave him something.' 

'And you found that bust moved the next morning?' 

'Yes, miss. There was a queer sort of smell in the study when I came down 
and opened the windows; a bad smell it was, and I wondered what it could 
be. Do you know, miss, I went a long time ago to the Zoo in London with 
my cousin Thomas Barker, one afternoon that I had off, when I was at Mrs 
Prince's in Stanhope Gate, and we went into the snake-house to see the 
snakes, and it was just the same sort of smell; very sick it made me feel, I 
remember, and I got Barker to take me out. And it was just the same kind 
of smell in the study, as I was saying, and I was wondering what it could be 
from, when I see that bust with Pitt cut in it, standing on the master's desk, 
and I thought to myself, 'Now who has done that, and how have they done 
it? And when I came to dust the things, I looked at the bust, and I saw a 
great mark on it where the dust was gone, for I don't think it can have been 
touched with a duster for years and years, and it wasn't like finger-marks, 
but a large patch like, broad and spread out. So I passed my hand over it, 
without thinking what I was doing, and where that patch was it was all 
sticky and slimy, as if a snail had crawled over it. Very strange, isn't it, 
miss? and I wonder who can have done it, and how that mess was made.' 


The well-meant gabble of the servant touched me to the quick; I lay down 
upon my bed, and bit my lip that I should not cry out loud in the sharp 
anguish of my terror and bewilderment. Indeed, I was almost mad with 
dread; I believe that if it had been daylight I should have fled hot foot, 
forgetting all courage and all the debt of gratitude that was due to Professor 
Gregg, not caring whether my fate were that I must starve slowly, so long 
as I might escape from the net of blind and panic fear that every day 
seemed to draw a little closer round me. If I knew, I thought, if I knew what 
there was to dread, I could guard against it; but here, in this lonely house, 
shut in on all sides by the olden woods and the vaulted hills, terror seems to 
spring inconsequent from every covert, and the flesh is aghast at the 
half-hearted murmurs of horrible things. All in vain I strove to summon 
scepticism to my aid, and endeavoured by cool common sense to buttress 
my belief in a world of natural order, for the air that blew in at the open 
window was a mystic breath, and in the darkness I felt the silence go heavy 
and sorrowful as a mass of requiem, and I conjured images of strange 
shapes gathering fast amidst the reeds, beside the wash of the river. 

In the morning from the moment that I set foot in the breakfast-room, I felt 
that the unknown plot was drawing to a crisis; the professor's face was firm 
and set, and he seemed hardly to hear our voices when we spoke. 

'I am going out for a rather long walk,' he said, when the meal was over. 
'You mustn't be expecting me, now, or thinking anything has happened if I 
don't turn up to dinner. I have been getting stupid lately, and I dare say a 
miniature walking tour will do me good. Perhaps I may even spend the 
night in some little inn, if I find any place that looks clean and comfortable.' 

I heard this, and knew by my experience of Professor Gregg's manner that 
it was no ordinary business of pleasure that impelled him. I knew not, nor 
even remotely guessed, where he was bound, nor had I the vaguest notion 
of his errand, but all the fear of the night before returned; and as he stood, 
smiling, on the terrace, ready to set out, I implored him to stay, and to 
forget all his dreams of the undiscovered continent. 


'No, no, Miss Lally,' he replied, still smiling, 'it's too late now. Vestigia 
nulla retrorsum, you know, is the device of all true explorers, though I 
hope it won't be literally true in my case. But, indeed, you are wrong to 
alarm yourself so; I look upon my little expedition as quite commonplace; 
no more exciting than a day with the geological hammers. There is a risk, 
of course, but so there is on the commonest excursion. I can afford to be 
jaunty; I am doing nothing so hazardous as 'Arry does a hundred times over 
in the course of every Bank Holiday. Well, then, you must look more 
cheerfully; and so goodbye till tomorrow at latest.' 

He walked briskly up the road, and I saw him open the gate that marks the 
entrance of the wood, and then he vanished in the gloom of the trees. 

All the day passed heavily with a strange darkness in the air, and again I 
felt as if imprisoned amidst the ancient woods, shut in an olden land of 
mystery and dread, and as if all was long ago and forgotten by the living 
outside. I hoped and dreaded; and when the dinner-hour came I waited, 
expecting to hear the professor's step in the hall, and his voice exulting at I 
knew not what triumph. I composed my face to welcome him gladly, but 
the night descended dark, and he did not come. 

In the morning, when the maid knocked at my door, I called out to her, and 
asked if her master had returned; and when she replied that his bedroom 
door stood open and empty, I felt the cold clasp of despair. Still, I fancied 
he might have discovered genial company, and would return for luncheon, 
or perhaps in the afternoon, and I took the children for a walk in the forest, 
and tried my best to play and laugh with them, and to shout out the 
thoughts of mystery and veiled terror. Hour after hour I waited, and my 
thoughts grew darker; again the night came and found me watching, and at 
last, as I was making much ado to finish my dinner, I heard steps outside 
and the sound of a man's voice. 

The maid came in and looked oddly at me. 'Please, miss,' she began, 'Mr 
Morgan, the gardener, wants to speak to you for a minute, if you didn't 


'Show him in, please,' I answered, and set my lips tight. 

The old man came slowly into the room, and the servant shut the door 
behind him. 

'Sit down, Mr Morgan,' I said; 'what is it that you want to say to me?' 

'Well, miss, Mr Gregg he gave me something for you yesterday morning, 
just before he went off, and he told me particular not to hand it up before 
eight o'clock this evening exactly, if so be as he wasn't back again home 
before, and if he should come home before I was just to return it to him in 
his own hands. So, you see, as Mr Gregg isn't here yet, I suppose I'd better 
give you the parcel directly.' 

He pulled out something from his pocket, and gave it to me, half rising. I 
took it silently, and seeing that Morgan seemed doubtful as to what he was 
to do next. I thanked him and bade him good night, and he went out. I was 
left alone in the room with the parcel in my hand — a paper parcel, neatly 
sealed and directed to me, with the instructions Morgan had quoted, all 
written in the professor's large, loose hand. I broke the seals with a choking 
at my heart, and found an envelope inside, addressed also, but open, and I 
took the letter out. 

'My dear Miss Lally,' it began - 'To quote the old logic manual, the case of 
your reading this note is a case of my having made a blunder of some sort, 
and, I am afraid, a blunder that turns these lines into a farewell. It is 
practically certain that neither you nor any one else will ever see me again. 
I have made my will with provision for this eventuality, and I hope you will 
consent to accept the small remembrance addressed to you, and my sincere 
thanks for the way in which you joined your fortunes to mine. The fate 
which has come upon me is desperate and terrible beyond the remotest 
dreams of man; but this fate you have a right to know — if you please. If 
you look in the left-hand drawer of my dressing-table, you will find the key 
of the escritoire, properly labelled. In the well of the escritoire is a large 
envelope sealed and addressed to your name. I advise you to throw it 
forthwith into the fire; you will sleep better of nights if you do so. But if 


you must know the history of what has happened, it is all written down for 
you to read.' 

The signature was firmly written below, and again I turned the page and 
read out the words one by one, aghast and white to the lips, my hands cold 
as ice, and sickness choking me. The dead silence of the room, and the 
thought of the dark woods and hills closing me in on every side, oppressed 
me, helpless and without capacity, and not knowing where to turn for 
counsel. At last I resolved that though knowledge should haunt my whole 
life and all the days to come, I must know the meaning of the strange 
terrors that had so long tormented me, rising grey, dim, and awful, like the 
shadows in the wood at dusk. I carefully carried out Professor Gregg's 
directions, and not without reluctance broke the seal of the envelope, and 
spread out his manuscript before me. That manuscript I always carry with 
me, and I see that I cannot deny your unspoken request to read it. This, 
then, was what I read that night, sitting at the desk, with a shaded lamp 
beside me. 

The young lady who called herself Miss Lally then proceeded to recite 

The statement of William Gregg, F.R.S., etc. 

It is many years since the first glimmer of the theory which is now almost, 
if not quite, reduced to fact dawned on my mind. A somewhat extensive 
course of miscellaneous and obsolete reading had done a great deal to 
prepare the way, and, later, when I became somewhat of a specialist, and 
immersed myself in the studies known as ethnological, I was now and then 
startled by facts that would not square with orthodox scientific opinion, and 
by discoveries that seemed to hint at something still hidden for all our 
research. More particularly I became convinced that much of the folk-lore 
of the world is but an exaggerated account of events that really happened, 
and I was especially drawn to consider the stories of the fairies, the good 
folk of the Celtic races. Here, I thought I could detect the fringe of 
embroidery and exaggeration, the fantastic guise, the little people dressed 
in green and gold sporting in the flowers, and I thought I saw a distinct 
analogy between the name given to this race (supposed to be imaginary) 


and the description of their appearance and manners. Just as our remote 
ancestors called the dreaded beings 'fair' and 'good' precisely because they 
dreaded them, so they had dressed them up in charming forms, knowing the 
truth to be the very reverse. Literature, too, had gone early to work, and had 
lent a powerful hand in the transformation, so that the playful elves of 
Shakespeare are already far removed from the true original, and the real 
horror is disguised in a form of prankish mischief. But in the older tales, the 
stories that used to make men cross themselves as they sat around the 
burning logs, we tread a different stage; I saw a widely opposed spirit in 
certain histories of children and of men and women who vanished strangely 
from the earth. They would be seen by a peasant in the fields walking 
towards some green and rounded hillock, and seen no more on earth; and 
there are stories of mothers who have left a child quietly sleeping, with the 
cottage door rudely barred with a piece of wood, and have returned, not to 
find the plump and rosy little Saxon, but a thin and wizened creature, with 
sallow skin and black, piercing eyes, the child of another race. Then, again, 
there were myths darker still; the dread of witch and wizard, the lurid evil 
of the Sabbath, and the hint of demons who mingled with the daughters of 
men. And just as we have turned the terrible 'fair folk' into a company of 
benignant, if freakish elves, so we have hidden from us the black foulness 
of the witch and her companions under a popular diablerie of old women 
and broomsticks, and a comic cat with tail on end. So the Greeks called the 
hideous furies benevolent ladies, and thus the northern nations have 
followed their example. I pursued my investigations, stealing odd hours 
from other and more imperative labours, and I asked myself the question: 
Supposing these traditions to be true, who were the demons who are 
reported to have attended the Sabbaths? I need not say that I laid aside what 
I may call the supernatural hypothesis of the Middle Ages, and came to the 
conclusion that fairies and devils were of one and the same race and origin; 
invention, no doubt, and the Gothic fancy of old days, had done much in 
the way of exaggeration and distortion; yet I firmly believe that beneath all 
this imagery there was a black background of truth. As for some of the 
alleged wonders, I hesitated. While I should be very loath to receive any 
one specific instance of modern spiritualism as containing even a grain of 
the genuine, yet I was not wholly prepared to deny that human flesh may 
now and then, once perhaps in ten millions cases, be the veil of powers 


which seem magical to us — powers which, so far from proceeding from the 
heights and leading men thither, are in reality survivals from the depths of 
being. The amoeba and the snail have powers which we do not possess; and 
I thought it possible that the theory of reversion might explain many things 
which seem wholly inexplicable. Thus stood my position; I saw good 
reason to believe that much of the tradition, a vast deal of the earliest and 
uncorrupted tradition of the so-called fairies, represented solid fact, and I 
thought that the purely supernatural element in these traditions was to be 
accounted for on the hypothesis that a race which had fallen out of the 
grand march of evolution might have retained, as a survival, certain powers 
which would be to us wholly miraculous. Such was my theory as it stood 
conceived in my mind; and working with this in view, I seemed to gather 
confirmation from every side, from the spoils of a tumulus or a barrow, 
from a local paper reporting an antiquarian meeting in the country, and 
from general literature of all kinds. Amongst other instances, I remember 
being struck by the phrase 'articulate-speaking men' in Homer, as if the 
writer knew or had heard of men whose speech was so rude that it could 
hardly be termed articulate; and on my hypothesis of a race who had lagged 
far behind the rest, I could easily conceive that such a folk would speak a 
jargon but little removed from the inarticulate noises of brute beasts. 

Thus I stood, satisfied that my conjecture was at all events not far removed 
from fact, when a chance paragraph in a small country print one day 
arrested my attention. It was a short account of what was to all appearance 
the usual sordid tragedy of the village — a young girl unaccountably 
missing, and evil rumour blatant and busy with her reputation. Yet I could 
read between the lines that all this scandal was purely hypothetical, and in 
all probability invented to account for what was in any other manner 
unaccountable. A flight to London or Liverpool, or an undiscovered body 
lying with a weight about its neck in the foul depths of a woodland pool, or 
perhaps murder — such were the theories of the wretched girl's neighbours. 
But as I idly scanned the paragraph, a flash of thought passed through me 
with the violence of an electric shock: what if the obscure and horrible race 
of the hills still survived, still remained haunting wild places and barren 
hills, and now and then repeating the evil of Gothic legend, unchanged and 
unchangeable as the Turanian Shelta, or the Basques of Spain? I have said 


that the thought came with violence; and indeed I drew in my breath 
sharply, and clung with both hands to my elbow-chair, in a strange 
confusion of horror and elation. It was as if one of my confreres of physical 
science, roaming in a quiet English wood, had been suddenly stricken 
aghast by the presence of the slimy and loathsome terror of the 
ichthyosaurus, the original of the stories of the awful worms killed by 
valourous knights, or had seen the sun darkened by the pterodactyl, the 
dragon of tradition. Yet as a resolute explorer of knowledge, the thought of 
such a discovery threw me into a passion of joy, and I cut out the slip from 
the paper and put it in a drawer in my old bureau, resolved that it should be 
but the first piece in a collection of the strangest significance. I sat long that 
evening dreaming of the conclusions I should establish, nor did cooler 
reflection at first dash my confidence. Yet as I began to put the case fairly, I 
saw that I might be building on an unstable foundation; the facts might 
possibly be in accordance with local opinion, and I regarded the affair with 
a mood of some reserve. Yet I resolved to remain perched on the lookout, 
and I hugged to myself the thought that I alone was watching and wakeful, 
while the great crowd of thinkers and searchers stood heedless and 
indifferent, perhaps letting the most prerogative facts pass by unnoticed. 

Several years elapsed before I was enabled to add to the contents of the 
drawer; and the second find was in reality not a valuable one, for it was a 
mere repetition of the first, with only the variation of another and distant 
locality. Yet I gained something; for in the second case, as in the first, the 
tragedy took place in a desolate and lonely country, and so far my theory 
seemed justified. But the third piece was to me far more decisive. Again, 
amongst outland hills, far even from a main road of traffic, an old man was 
found done to death, and the instrument of execution was left beside him. 
Here, indeed, there were rumour and conjecture, for the deadly tool was a 
primitive stone axe, bound by gut to the wooden handle, and surmises the 
most extravagant and improbable were indulged in. Yet, as I thought with a 
kind of glee, the wildest conjectures went far astray; and I took the pains to 
enter into correspondence with the local doctor, who was called at the 
inquest. He, a man of some acuteness, was dumbfounded. 'It will not do to 
speak of these things in country places,' he wrote to me; 'but frankly, there 
is some hideous mystery here. I have obtained possession of the stone axe, 


and have been so curious as to test its powers. I took it into the back garden 
of my house one Sunday afternoon when my family and the servants were 
all out, and there, sheltered by the poplar hedges, I made my experiments. I 
found the thing utterly unmanageable; whether there is some peculiar 
balance, some nice adjustment of weights, which require incessant practice, 
or whether an effectual blow can be struck only by a certain trick of the 
muscles, I do not know; but I can assure you that I went into the house with 
but a sorry opinion of my athletic capacities. I was like an inexperienced 
man trying "putting the hammer" ; the force exerted seemed to return on 
oneself, and I found myself hurled backwards with violence, while the axe 
fell harmless to the ground. On another occasion I tried the experiment with 
a clever woodman of the place; but this man, who had handled his axe for 
forty years, could do nothing with the stone implement, and missed every 
stroke most ludicrously. In short, if it were not so supremely absurd, I 
should say that for four thousand years no one on earth could have struck 
an effective blow with the tool that undoubtedly was used to murder the old 
man.' This, as may be imagined, was to me rare news; and afterwards, when 
I heard the whole story, and learned that the unfortunate old man had 
babbled tales of what might be seen at night on a certain wild hillside, 
hinting at unheard-of wonders, and that he had been found cold one 
morning on the very hill in question, my exultation was extreme, for I felt I 
was leaving conjecture far behind me. But the next step was of still greater 
importance. I had possessed for many years an extraordinary stone seal — a 
piece of dull black stone, two inches long from the handle to the stamp, and 
the stamping end a rough hexagon an inch and a quarter in diameter. 
Altogether, it presented the appearance of an enlarged tobacco stopper of an 
old-fashioned make. It had been sent to me by an agent in the East, who 
informed me that it had been found near the site of the ancient Babylon. 
But the characters engraved on the seal were to me an intolerable puzzle. 
Somewhat of the cuneiform pattern, there were yet striking differences, 
which I detected at the first glance, and all efforts to read the inscription on 
the hypothesis that the rules for deciphering the arrow-headed writing 
would apply proved futile. A riddle such as this stung my pride, and at odd 
moments I would take the Black Seal out of the cabinet, and scrutinize it 
with so much idle perseverance that every letter was familiar to my mind, 
and I could have drawn the inscription from memory without the slightest 


error. Judge, then, of my surprise when I one day received from a 
correspondent in the west of England a letter and an enclosure that 
positively left me thunderstruck. I saw carefully traced on a large piece of 
paper the very characters of the Black Seal, without alteration of any kind, 
and above the inscription my friend had written: Inscription found on a 
limestone rock on the Grey Hills, Monmouthshire. Done in some red earth, 
and quite recent. I turned to the letter. My friend wrote: 'I send you the 
enclosed inscription with all due reserve. A shepherd who passed by the 
stone a week ago swears that there was then no mark of any kind. The 
characters, as I have noted, are formed by drawing some red earth over the 
stone, and are of an average height of one inch. They look to me like a kind 
of cuneiform character, a good deal altered, but this, of course, is 
impossible. It may be either a hoax, or more probably some scribble of the 
gipsies, who are plentiful enough in this wild country. They have, as you 
are aware, many heiroglyphics which they use in communicating with one 
another. I happened to visit the stone in question two days ago in 
connection with a rather painful incident which has occurred here.' 

As it may be supposed, I wrote immediately to my friend, thanking him for 
the copy of the inscription, and asking him in a casual manner the history of 
the incident he mentioned. To be brief, I heard that a woman named 
Cradock, who had lost her husband a day before, had set out to 
communicate the sad news to a cousin who lived some five miles away. 
She took a short cut which led by the Grey Hills. Mrs Cradock, who was 
then quite a young woman, never arrived at her relative's house. Late that 
night a farmer, who had lost a couple of sheep, supposed to have wandered 
from the flock, was walking over the Grey Hills, with a lantern and his dog. 
His attention was attracted by a noise, which he described as a kind of 
wailing, mournful and pitiable to hear; and, guided by the sound, he found 
the unfortunate Mrs Cradock crouched on the ground by the limestone 
rock, swaying her body to and fro, and lamenting and crying in so 
heart-rending a manner that the farmer was, as he says, at first obliged to 
stop his ears, or he would have run away. The woman allowed herself to be 
taken home, and a neighbour came to see to her necessities. All the night 
she never ceased her crying, mixing her lament with words of some 
unintelligible jargon, and when the doctor arrived he pronounced her 


insane. She lay on her bed for a week, now wailing, as people said, like one 
lost and damned for eternity, and now sunk in a heavy coma; it was thought 
that grief at the loss of her husband had unsettled her mind, and the medical 
man did not at one time expect her to live. I need not say that I was deeply 
interested in this story, and I made my friend write to me at intervals with 
all the particulars of the case. I heard then that in the course of six weeks 
the woman gradually recovered the use of her faculties, and some months 
later she gave birth to a son, christened Jervase, who unhappily proved to 
be of weak intellect. Such were the facts known to the village; but to me, 
while I whitened at the suggested thought of the hideous enormities that 
had doubtless been committed, all this was nothing short of conviction, and 
I incautiously hazarded a hint of something like the truth to some scientific 
friends. The moment the words had left my lips I bitterly regretted having 
spoken, and thus given away the great secret of my life, but with a good 
deal of relief mixed with indignation I found my fears altogether misplaced, 
for my friends ridiculed me to my face, and I was regarded as a madman; 
and beneath a natural anger I chuckled to myself, feeling as secure amidst 
these blockheads as if I had confided what I knew to the desert sands. 

But now, knowing so much, I resolved I would know all, and I 
concentrated my efforts on the task of deciphering the inscription on the 
Black Seal. For many years I made this puzzle the sole object of my leisure 
moments, for the greater portion of my time was, of course, devoted to 
other duties, and it was only now and then that I could snatch a week of 
clear research. If I were to tell the full history of this curious investigation, 
this statement would be wearisome in the extreme, for it would contain 
simply the account of long and tedious failure. But what I knew already of 
ancient scripts I was well equipped for the chase, as I always termed it to 
myself. I had correspondents amongst all the scientific men in Europe, and, 
indeed, in the world, and I could not believe that in these days any 
character, however ancient and however perplexed, could long resist the 
search-light I should bring to bear upon it. Yet in point of fact, it was fully 
fourteen years before I succeeded. With every year my professional duties 
increased and my leisure became smaller. This no doubt retarded me a good 
deal; and yet, when I look back on those years, I am astonished at the vast 
scope of my investigation of the Black Seal. I made my bureau a centre, 


and from all the world and from all the ages I gathered transcripts of 
ancient writing. Nothing, I resolved, should pass me unawares, and the 
faintest hint should be welcomed and followed up. But as one covert after 
another was tried and proved empty of result, I began in the course of years 
to despair, and to wonder whether the Black Seal were the sole relic of 
some race that had vanished from the world, and left no other trace of its 
existence - had perished, in fine, as Atlantis is said to have done, in some 
great cataclysm, its secrets perhaps drowned beneath the ocean or moulded 
into the heart of the hills. The thought chilled my warmth a little, and 
though I still persevered, it was no longer with the same certainty of faith. 
A chance came to the rescue. I was staying in a considerable town in the 
north of England, and took the opportunity of going over the very 
creditable museum that had for some time been established in the place. 
The curator was one of my correspondents; and, as we were looking 
through one of the mineral cases, my attention was struck by a specimen, a 
piece of black stone some four inches square, the appearance of which 
reminded me in a measure of the Black Seal. I took it up carelessly, and 
was turning it over in my hand, when I saw, to my astonishment, that the 
under side was inscribed. I said, quietly enough, to my friend the curator 
that the specimen interested me, and that I should be much obliged if he 
would allow me to take it with me to my hotel for a couple of days. He, of 
course, made no objection, and I hurried to my rooms and found that my 
first glance had not deceived me. There were two inscriptions; one in the 
regular cuneiform character, another in the character of the Black Seal, and 
I realized that my task was accomplished. I made an exact copy of the two 
inscriptions; and when I got to my London study, and had the seal before 
me, I was able seriously to grapple with the great problem. The interpreting 
inscription on the museum specimen, though in itself curious enough, did 
not bear on my quest, but the transliteration made me master of the secret 
of the Black Seal. Conjucture, of course, had to enter into my calculations; 
there was here and there uncertainty about a particular ideograph, and one 
sign recurring again and again on the seal baffled me for many successive 
nights. But at last the secret stood open before me in plain English, and I 
read the key of the awful transmutation of the hills. The last word was 
hardly written, when with fingers all trembling and unsteady I tore the 
scrap of paper into the minutest fragments, and saw them flame and 


blacken in the red hollow of the fire, and then I crushed the grey films that 
remained into finest powder. Never since then have I written those words; 
never will I write the phrases which tell how man can be reduced to the 
slime from which he came, and be forced to put on the flesh of the reptile 
and the snake. There was now but one thing remaining. I knew, but I 
desired to see, and I was after some time able to take a house in the 
neighbourhood of the Grey Hills, and not far from the cottage where Mrs 
Cradock and her son Jervase resided. I need not go into a full and detailed 
account of the apparently inexplicable events which have occurred here, 
where I am writing this. I knew that I should find in Jervase Cradock 
something of the blood of the 'Little People', and I found later that he had 
more than once encountered his kinsmen in lonely places in that lonely 
land. When I was summoned one day to the garden, and found him in a 
seizure speaking or hissing the ghastly jargon of the Black Seal, I am afraid 
that exultation prevailed over pity. I heard bursting from his lips the secrets 
of the underworld, and the word of dread, 'Ishakshar', signification of which 
I must be excused from giving. 

But there is one incident I cannot pass over unnoticed. In the waste hollow 
of the night I awoke at the sound of those hissing syllables I knew so well; 
and on going to the wretched boy's room, I found him convulsed and 
foaming at the mouth, struggling on the bed as if he strove to escape the 
grasp of writhing demons. I took him down to my room and lit the lamp, 
while he lay twisting on the floor, calling on the power within his flesh to 
leave him. I saw his body swell and become distended as a bladder, while 
the face blackened before my eyes; and then at the crisis I did what was 
necessary according to the directions on the Seal, and putting all scruple on 
one side, I became a man of science, observant of what was passing. Yet 
the sight I had to witness was horrible, almost beyond the power of human 
conception and the most fearful fantasy. Something pushed out from the 
body there on the floor, and stretched forth a slimy, wavering tentacle, 
across the room, grasped the bust upon the cupboard, and laid it down on 
my desk. 

When it was over, and I was left to walk up and down all the rest of the 
night, white and shuddering, with sweat pouring from my flesh, I vainly 


tried to reason within myself: I said, truly enough, that I had seen nothing 
really supernatural, that a snail pushing out his horns and drawing them in 
was but an instance on a smaller scale of what I had witnessed; and yet 
horror broke through all such reasonings and left me shattered and loathing 
myself for the share I had taken in the night's work. 

There is little more to be said. I am going now to the final trial and 
encounter; for I have determined that there shall be nothing wanting, and I 
shall meet the 'Little People' face to face. I shall have the Black Seal and 
the knowledge of its secrets to help me, and if I unhappily do not return 
from my journey, there is no need to conjure up here a picture of the 
awfulness of my fate. 

Pausing a little at the end of Professor Gregg's statement, Miss Lally 
continued her tale in the following words: - 

Such was the almost incredible story that the professor had left behind him. 
When I had finished reading it, it was late at night, but the next morning I 
took Morgan with me, and we proceeded to search the Grey Hills for some 
trace of the lost professor. I will not weary you with a description of the 
savage desolation of that tract of country, a tract of utterest loneliness, of 
bare green hills dotted over with grey limestone boulders, worn by the 
ravages of time into fantastic semblances of men and beast. Finally, after 
many hours of weary searching, we found what I told you — the watch and 
chain, and purse, and the ring — wrapped in a piece of coarse ment. When 
Morgan cut the gut that bound the parcel together, and I saw the professor's 
property, I burst into tears, but the sight of the dreaded characters of the 
Black Seal repeated on the ment froze me to silent horror, and I think I 
understood for the first time the awful fate that had come upon my late 

I have only to add that Professor Gregg's lawyer treated my account of what 
had happened as a fairy tale, and refused even to glance at the documents I 
laid before him. It was he who was responsible for the statement that 
appeared in the public press, to the effect that Professor Gregg had been 
drowned, and that his body must have been swept into the open sea. 


Miss Lally stopped speaking, and looked at Mr Phillipps, with a glance of 
some inquiry. He, for his part, was sunken in a deep reverie of thought; and 
when he looked up and saw the bustle of the evening gathering in the 
square, men and women hurrying to partake of dinner, and crowds already 
besetting the music-halls, all the hum and press of actual life seemed unreal 
and visionary, a dream in the morning after an awakening. 

'I thank you,' he said at last, 'for your most interesting story; interesting to 
me, because I feel fully convinced of its exact truth.' 

'Sir,' said the lady, with some energy of indignation, 'you grieve and offend 
me. Do you think I should waste my time and yours by concocting fictions 
on a bench in Leicester Square?' 

'Pardon me, Miss Lally, you have a little misunderstood me. Before you 
began I knew that whatever you told would be told in good faith, but your 
experiences have a far higher value than that of bona fides. The most 
extraordinary circumstances in your account are in perfect harmony with 
the very latest scientific theories. Professor Lodge would, I am sure, value a 
communication from you extremely; I was charmed from the first by his 
daring hypothesis in explanation of the wonders of spiritualism (so called), 
but your narrative puts the whole matter out of the range of mere 

'Alas ! sir, all this will not help me. You forget, I have lost my brother under 
the most startling and dreadful circumstances. Again, I ask you, did you not 
see him as you came here? His black whiskers, his spectacles, his timid 
glance to right and left; think, do not these particulars recall his face to your 

'I am sorry to say I have never seen anyone of the kind,' said Phillipps, who 
had forgotten all about the missing brother. 'But let me ask you a few 
questions. Did you notice whether Professor Gregg...' 

'Pardon me, sir, I have stayed too long. My employers will be expecting 
me. I thank you for your sympathy. Goodbye.' 


Before Mr Phillipps had recovered from his amazement at this abrupt 
departure Miss Lally had disappeared from his gaze, passing into the crowd 
that now thronged the approaches to the Empire. He walked home in a 
pensive frame of mind, and drank too much tea. At ten o'clock he had made 
his third brew, and had sketched out the outlines of a little work to be called 
Protoplasmic Reversion. 


Mr Dyson often meditated at odd moments over the singular tale he had 
listened to at the Cafe de la Touraine. In the first place, he cherished a 
profound conviction that the words of truth were scattered with a too 
niggardly and sparing hand over the agreeable history of Mr Smith and the 
Black Gulf Canon; and secondly, there was the undeniable fact of the 
profound agitation of the narrator, and his gestures on the pavement, too 
violent to be simulated. The idea of a man going about London haunted by 
the fear of meeting a young man with spectacles struck Dyson as supremely 
ridiculous; he searched his memory for some precedent in romance, but 
without success; he paid visits at odd times to the little cafe, hoping to find 
Mr Wilkins there; and he kept a sharp watch on the great generation of the 
spectacled men, without much doubt that he would remember the face of 
the individual whom he had seen dart out of the aerated bread shop. All his 
peregrinations and researches, however, seemed to lead to nothing of value, 
and Dyson needed all his warm conviction of his innate detective powers 
and his strong scent for mystery to sustain him in his endeavours. In fact, 
he had two affairs on hand; and every day, as he passed through streets 
crowded or deserted, lurked in the obscure districts and watched at corners, 
he was more than surprised to find that the affair of the gold coin 
persistently avoided him, while the ingenious Wilkins, and the young man 
with spectacles whom he dreaded, seemed to have vanished from the 

He was pondering these problems one evening in a house of call in the 
Strand, and the obstinacy with which the persons he so ardently desired to 
meet hung back gave the modest tankard before him an additional touch of 
bitter. As it happened, he was alone in his compartment, and, without 


thinking, he uttered aloud the burden of his meditations. 'How bizarre it all 
is!' he said, 'a man walking the pavement with the dread of a timid-looking 
young man with spectacles continually hovering before his eyes. And there 
was some tremendous feeling at work, I could swear to that.' Quick as 
thought, before he had finished the sentence, a head popped round the 
barrier, and was withdrawn again; all while Dyson was wondering what 
this could mean, the door of the compartment was swung open, and a 
smooth, clean-shaven, and smiling gentleman entered. 

'You will excuse me, sir,' he said politely, 'for intruding on your thoughts, 
but you made a remark a minute ago.' 

'I did,' said Dyson; 'I have been puzzling over a foolish matter, and I 
thought aloud. As you heard what I said, and seem interested, perhaps you 
may be able to relieve my perplexity?' 

'Indeed, I scarcely know; it is an odd coincidence. One has to be cautious. I 
suppose, sir, that you would be glad to assist the ends of justice.' 

'Justice,' replied Dyson, 'is a term of such wide meaning, that I too feel 
doubtful about giving an answer. But this place is not altogether fit for such 
a discussion; perhaps you would come to my rooms?' 

'You are very kind; my name is Burton, but I am sorry to say I have not a 
card with me. Do you live near here?' 

'Within ten minutes' walk.' 

Mr Burton took out his watch, and seemed to be making a rapid calculation. 

'I have a train to catch,' he said; 'but after all, it is a late one. So if you don't 
mind, I think I will come with you. I am sure we should have a little talk 
together. We turn up here?' 

The theatres were filling as they crossed the Strand; the street seemed alive 
with voices, and Dyson looked fondly about him. The glittering lines of 


gas-lamps, with here and there the blinding radiance of an electric light, the 
hansoms that flashed to and fro with ringing bells, the laden 'buses, and the 
eager hurrying east and west of the foot-passengers, made his most 
enchanting picture; and the graceful spire of St. Mary le Strand on the one 
hand, and the last flush of sunset on the other, were to him a cause of 
thanksgiving, as the gorse blossom to Linnaeus. Mr Burton caught his look 
of fondness as they crossed the street. 

'I see you can find the picturesque in London,' he said. 'To me this great 
town is as I see it is to you - the study and the love of life. Yet how few 
there are that can pierce the veils of apparent monotony and meanness ! I 
have read in a paper, which is said to have the largest circulation in the 
world, a comparison between the aspects of London and Paris, a 
comparison which should be positively laureate as the great masterpiece of 
fatuous stupidity. Conceive if you can a human being of ordinary 
intelligence preferring the Boulevards to our London streets; imagine a man 
calling for the wholesale destruction of our most charming city, in order 
that the dull uniformity of that whited sepulchre called Paris should be 
reproduced here in London. Is it not positively incredible?' 

'My dear sir,' said Dyson, regarding Burton with a good deal of interest, 'I 
agree most heartily with your opinions, but I really can't share your wonder. 
Have you heard how much George Eliot received for Romola! Do you 
know what the circulation of Robert Elsmere was? Do you read Tit-Bits, 
regularly? To me, on the contrary, it is constant matter both for wonder and 
thanksgiving that London was not boulevardized twenty years ago. I praise 
that exquisite jagged skyline that stands up against the pale greens and 
fading blues and flushing clouds of sunset, but I wonder even more than I 
praise. As for St. Mary le Strand, its preservation is a miracle, nothing more 
or less. A thing of exquisite beauty versus four 'buses abreast! Really, the 
conclusion is too obvious. Didn't you read the letter of the man who 
proposed that the whole mysterious system, the immemorial plan of 
computing Easter, should be abolished off-hand, because he doesn't like his 
son having his holidays as early as March 25th? But shall we be going on?' 


They had lingered at the corner of a street on the north side of the Strand, 
enjoying the contrasts and the glamour of the scene. Dyson pointed the way 
with a gesture, and they strolled up the comparatively deserted streets, 
slanting a little to the right, and thus arriving at Dyson's lodging on the 
verge of Bloomsbury. Mr Burton took a comfortable arm-chair by the open 
window, while Dyson lit the candles and produced the whisky and soda and 

They tell me these cigarettes are very good,' he said; 'but I know nothing 
about it myself. I hold at last that there is only one tobacco, and that is shag. 
I suppose I could not tempt you to try a pipeful?' 

Mr Burton smilingly refused the offer, and picked out a cigarette from the 
box. When he had smoked it half through, he said with some hesitation - 

'It is really kind of you to have me here, Mr Dyson; the fact is that the 
interests at issue are far too serious to be discussed in a bar, where, as you 
found for yourself, there may be listeners, voluntary or involuntary, on each 
side. I think the remark I heard you make was something about the oddity 
of an individual going about London in deadly fear of a young man with 

'Yes; that was it.' 

'Well, would you mind confiding to me the circumstances that gave rise to 
the reflection?' 

'Not in the least. It was like this.' And he ran over in brief outline the 
adventure in Oxford Street, dwelling on the violence of Mr Wilkins's 
gestures, but wholly suppressing the tale told in the cafe. 'He told me he 
lived in constant terror of meeting this man; and I left him when I thought 
he was cool enough to look after himself,' said Dyson, ending his narrative. 

'Really,' said Mr Burton. 'And you actually saw this mysterious person?' 



'And could you describe him?' 

'Well, he looked to me a youngish man, pale and nervous. He had small 
black side- whiskers, and wore rather large spectacles.' 

'But this is simply marvellous ! You astonish me. For I must tell you that my 
interest in the matter is this. I'm not in the least in terror of meeting a dark 
young man with spectacles, but I shrewdly suspect a person of that 
description would much rather not meet me. And yet the account you give 
of the man tallies exactly. A nervous glance to right and left - is it not so? 
And, as you observed, he wears prominent spectacles, and has small black 
whiskers. There cannot be, surely, two people exactly identical — one a 
cause of terror, and the other, I should imagine, extremely anxious to get 
out of the way. But have you seen this man since?' 

'No, I have not; and I have been looking out for him pretty keenly. But of 
course he may have left London, and England too, for the matter of that.' 

'Hardly, I think. Well, Mr Dyson, it is only fair that I should explain my 
story, now that I have listened to yours. I must tell you, then, that I am an 
agent for curiosities and precious things of all kinds. An odd employment, 
isn't it? Of course, I wasn't brought up to the business; I gradually fell into 
it. I have always been fond of things queer and rare, and by the time I was 
twenty I had made half a dozen collections. It is not generally known how 
often farm-labourers come upon rarities; you would be astonished if I told 
you what I have seen turned up by the plough. I lived in the country in 
those days, and I used to buy anything the men on the farms brought me; 
and I had the queerest set of rubbish, as my friends called my collection. 
But that's how I got the scent of the business, which means everything; and, 
later on, it struck me that I might very well turn my knowledge to account 
and add to my income. Since those early days I have been in most quarters 
of the world, and some very valuable things have passed through my hands, 
and I have had to engage in difficult and delicate negotiations. You have I 
possibly heard of the Khan opal - called in the East "The Stone of a 
Thousand and One Colours"? Well, perhaps the conquest of that stone was 
my greatest achievement. I call it myself the stone of the thousand and one 


lies, for I assure you that I had to invent a cycle of folk-lore before the 
Rajah who owned it would consent to sell the thing. I subsidized wandering 
storytellers, who told tales in which the opal played a frightful part; I hired 
a holy man — a great ascetic - to prophesy against the thing in the language 
of Eastern symbolism; in short, I frightened the Rajah out of his wits. So, 
you see, there is room for diplomacy in the traffic I am engaged in. I have 
to be ever on my guard, and I have often been sensible that unless I 
watched every step and weighed every word, my life would not last me 
much longer. Last April I became aware of the existence of a highly 
valuable antique gem; it was in southern Italy, and in the possession of 
persons who were ignorant of its real value. It has always been my 
experience that it is precisely the ignorant who are most difficult to deal 
with. I have met farmers who were under the impression that a shilling of 
George the First was a find of almost incalculable value; and all the defeats 
I have sustained have been at the hands of people of this description. 
Reflecting on these facts, I saw that the acquisition of the gem I have 
mentioned would be an affair demanding the nicest diplomacy; I might 
possibly have got it by offering a sum approaching its real value, but I need 
not point out to you that such a proceeding would be most unbusinesslike. 
Indeed, I doubt whether it would have been successful; for the cupidity of 
such persons is aroused by a sum which seems enormous, and the low 
cunning which serves them in place of intelligence immediately suggests 
that the object for which such an amount is offered must be worth at least 
double. Of course, when it is a matter of an ordinary curiosity — an old jug, 
a carved chest, or a queer brass lantern — one does not much care; the 
cupidity of the owner defeats its object; the collector laughs and goes away, 
for he is aware that such things are by no means unique. But this gem I 
fervently desired to possess; and as I did not see my way to giving more 
than a hundredth part of its value, I was conscious that all my, let us say, 
imaginative and diplomatic powers would have to be exerted. I am sorry to 
say that I came to the conclusion that I could not undertake to carry the 
matter through singlehanded, and I determined to confide in my assistant, a 
young man named William Robbins, whom I judged to be by no means 
devoid of capacity. My idea was that Robbins should get himself up as a 
low-class dealer in precious stones; he could patter a little Italian, and 
would go to the town in question and manage to see the gem we were after, 


possibly by offering some trifling articles of jewellery for sale, but that I 
left to be decided. 

Then my work was to begin, but I will not trouble you with a tale told twice 
over. In due course, then, Robbins went off to Italy with an assortment of 
uncut stones and a few rings, and some jewellery I bought in Birmingham 
on purpose for his expedition. A week later I followed him, travelling 
leisurely, so that I was a fortnight later in arriving at our common 
destination. There was a decent hotel in the town, and on my inquiring of 
the landlord whether there were many strangers in the place, he told me 
very few; he had heard there was an Englishman staying in a small tavern, a 
pedlar, he said, who sold beautiful trinkets very cheaply, and wanted to buy 
old rubbish. For five or six days I took life leisurely, and I must say I 
enjoyed myself. It was part of my plan to make the people think I was an 
enormously rich man; and I knew that such items as the extravagance of my 
meals, and the price of every bottle of wine I drank, would not be suffered, 
as Sancho Panza puts it, to rot in the landlord's breast. At the end of the 
week I was fortunate enough to make the acquaintance of Signor Melini, 
the owner of the gem I coveted, at the cafe, and with his ready hospitality, 
and my geniality, I was soon established as a friend of the house. On my 
third or fourth visit I managed to make the Italians talk about the English 
pedlar, who, they said, spoke a most detestable Italian. "But that does not 
matter," said the Signora Melini, "for he has beautiful things, which he sells 
very, very cheap." "I hope you may not find he has cheated you," I said, 
"for I must tell you that English people give these fellows a very wide 
berth. They usually make a great parade of the cheapness of their goods, 
which often turn out to be double the price of better articles in the shops." 
They would not hear of this, and Signora Melini insisted on showing me 
the three rings and the bracelet she had bought of the pedlar. She told me 
the price she had paid; and after scrutinizing the articles carefully, I had to 
confess that she had made a bargain, and indeed Robbins had sold her the 
things at about fifty per cent below market value. I admired the trinkets as I 
gave them back to the lady, and I hinted that the pedlar must be a somewhat 
foolish specimen of his class. Two days later, as I was taking my vermouth 
at the cafe with Signor Melini, he led the conversation back to the pedlar, 
and mentioned casually that he had shown the man a little curiosity, for 


which he had made rather a handsome offer. "My dear sir," I said, "I hope 
you will be careful. I told you that the travelling tradesman does not bear a 
very high reputation in England; and notwithstanding his apparent 
simplicity, this fellow may turn out to be an arrant cheat. May I ask you 
what is the nature of the curiosity you have shown him?" He told me it was 
a little thing, a pretty little stone with some figures cut on it: people said it 
was old. "I should like to examine it," I replied, "as it happens I have seen a 
good deal of these gems. We have a fine collection of them in our Museum 
at London." In due course I was shown the article, and I held the gem I so 
coveted between my fingers. I looked at it coolly, and put it down 
carelessly on the table. "Would you mind telling me, Signor," I said, "how 
much my fellow-countryman offered you for this?" "Well," he said, "my 
wife says the man must be mad; he said he would give me twenty lire for 

'I looked at him quietly, and took up the gem and pretended to examine it in 
the light more carefully; I turned it over and over, and finally pulled out a 
magnifying glass from my pocket, and seemed to search every line in the 
cutting with minutest scrutiny. "My dear sir," I said at last, "I am inclined to 
agree with Signora Melini. If this gem were genuine, it would be worth 
some money; but as it happens to be a rather bad forgery, it is not worth 
twenty centesimi. It was sophisticated, I should imagine, some time in the 
last century, and by a very unskilful hand." "Then we had better get rid of 
it," said Melini. "I never thought it was worth anything myself. Of course, I 
am sorry for the pedlar, but one must let a man know his own trade. I shall 
tell him we will take the twenty lire." "Excuse me," I said, "the man wants a 
lesson. It would be a charity to give him one. Tell him that you will not 
take anything under eighty lire, and I shall be much surprised if he does not 
close with you at once." 

'A day or two later I heard that the English pedlar had gone away, after 
debasing the minds of the country people with Birmingham art jewellery; 
for I admit that the gold sleeve-links like kidney beans, the silver chains 
made apparently after the pattern of a dog-chain, and the initial brooches, 
have always been heavy on my conscience. I cannot acquit myself of 
having indirectly contributed to debauch the taste of a simple folk; but I 


hope that the end I had in view may finally outbalance this heavy charge. 
Soon afterwards I paid a farewell visit at the Melinis', and the signor 
informed me with an oily chuckle that the plan I had suggested had been 
completely successful. I congratulated him on his bargain, and went away 
after expressing a wish that Heaven might send many such pedlars in his 

'Nothing of interest occurred on my return journey. I had arranged that 
Robbins was to meet me at a certain place on a certain day, and I went to 
the appointment full of the coolest confidence; the gem had been 
conquered, and I had only to reap the fruits of victory. I am sorry to shake 
that trust in our common human nature which I am sure you possess, but I 
am compelled to tell you that up to the present date I have never set eyes on 
my man Robbins, or on the antique gem in his custody. I have found out 
that he actually arrived in London, for he was seen three days before my 
arrival in England by a pawnbroker of my acquaintance, consuming his 
favourite beverage — four ale — in the tavern where we met tonight. Since 
then he has not been heard of. I hope you will now pardon my curiosity as 
to the history and adventures of dark young men with spectacles. You will, 
I am sure, feel for me in my position; the savour of life has disappeared for 
me; it is a bitter thought that I have rescued one of the most perfect and 
exquisite specimens of antique art from the hands of ignorant, and indeed 
unscrupulous persons, only to deliver it into the keeping of a man who is 
evidently utterly devoid of the very elements of commercial morality.' 

'My dear sir,' said Dyson, 'you will allow me to compliment you on your 
style; your adventures have interested me exceedingly. But, forgive me, 
you just now used the word morality; would not some persons take 
exception to your own methods of business? I can conceive, myself, flaws 
of a moral kind being found in the very original conception you have 
described to me; I can imagine the Puritan shrinking in dismay from your 
scheme, pronouncing it unscrupulous — nay, dishonest.' 

Mr Burton helped himself very frankly to some more whisky. 


'Your scruples entertain me,' he said. 'Perhaps you have not gone very 
deeply into these questions of ethics. I have been compelled to do so 
myself, just as I was forced to master a simple system of book-keeping. 
Without book-keeping, and still more without a system of ethics, it is 
impossible to conduct a business such as mine. But I assure you that I am 
often profoundly saddened, as I pass through the crowded streets and watch 
the world at work, by the thought of how few amongst all these hurrying 
individuals, black-hatted, well-dressed, educated we may presume 
sufficiently, how few amongst them have any reasoned system of morality. 
Even you have not weighed the question; although you study life and 
affairs, and to a certain extent penetrate the veils and masks of the comedy 
of man, even you judge by empty conventions, and the false money which 
is allowed to pass current as sterling coin. Allow me to play the part of 
Socrates; I shall teach you nothing that you do not know. I shall merely lay 
aside the wrappings of prejudice and bad logic, and show you the real 
image which you possess in your soul. Come, then. Do you allow that 
happiness is anything?' 

'Certainly,' said Dyson. 

'And happiness is desirable or undesirable?' 

'Desirable, of course.' 

'And what shall we call the man who gives happiness? Is he not a 

'I think so.' 

'And such a person is praiseworthy, and the more praiseworthy in the 
proportion of the persons whom he makes happy? ' 

'By all means.' 

'So that he who makes a whole nation happy is praiseworthy in the extreme, 
and the action by which he gives happiness is the highest virtue?' 


'It appears so, O Burton,' said Dyson, who found something very exquisite 
in the character of his visitor. 

'Quite so; you find the several conclusions inevitable. Well, apply them to 
the story I have told you. I conferred happiness on myself by obtaining (as I 
thought) possession of the gem; I conferred happiness on the Melinis by 
getting them eighty lire instead of an object for which they had not the 
slightest value, and I intended to confer happiness on the whole British 
nation by selling the thing to the British Museum, to say nothing of the 
happiness a profit of about nine thousand per cent would have conferred on 
me. I assure you, I regard Robbins as an interferer with the cosmos and fair 
order of things. But that is nothing; you perceive that I am an apostle of the 
very highest morality; you have been forced to yield to argument.' 

'There certainly seems a great deal in what you advance,' said Dyson. 'I 
admit that I am a mere amateur of ethics, while you, as you say, have 
brought the most acute scrutiny to bear on these perplexed and doubtful 
questions. I can well understand your anxiety to meet the fallacious 
Robbins, and I congratulate myself on the chance which has made us 
acquainted. But you will pardon my seeming inhospitality; I see it is 
half-past eleven, and I think you mentioned a train.' 

'A thousand thanks, Mr Dyson. I have just time, I see. I will look you up 
some evening, if I may. Goodnight.' 


In the course of a few weeks Dyson became accustomed to the constant 
incursions of the ingenious Mr Burton, who showed himself ready to drop 
in at all hours, not averse to refreshment, and a profound guide in the 
complicated questions of life. His visits at once terrified and delighted 
Dyson, who could no longer seat himself at his bureau secure from 
interruption while he embarked on literary undertakings, each one of which 
was to be a masterpiece. On the other hand, it was a vivid pleasure to be 
confronted with views so highly original; and if here and there Mr Burton's 
reasonings seemed tinged with fallacy, yet Dyson freely yielded to the joy 


of strangeness, and never failed to give his visitor a frank and hearty 
welcome. Mr Burton's first inquiry was always after the unprincipled 
Robbins, and he seemed to feel the stings of disappointment when Dyson 
told him that he had failed to meet this outrage on all morality, as Burton 
styled him, vowing that sooner or later he would take vengeance on such a 
shameless betrayal of trust. 

One evening they had sat together for some time discussing the possibility 
of laying down for this present generation and our modern and intensely 
complicated order of society some rules of social diplomacy, such as Lord 
Bacon gave to the courtiers of King James I. 'It is a book to make,' said Mr 
Burton, 'but who is there capable of making it? I tell you, people are 
longing for such a book; it would bring fortune to its publisher. Bacon's 
Essays are exquisite, but they have now no practical application; the 
modern strategist can find but little use in a treatise De Re Militari, written 
by a Florentine in the fifteenth century. Scarcely more dissimilar are the 
social conditions of Bacon's time and our own; the rules that he lays down 
so exquisitely for the courtier and diplomatist of James the First's age will 
avail us little in the rough-and-tumble struggle of today. Life, I am afraid, 
has deteriorated; it gives little play for fine strokes such as formerly 
advanced men in the state. Except in such businesses as mine, where a 
chance does occur now and then, it has all become, as I said, an affair of 
rough and tumble; men still desire to attain, it is true, but what is their 
moyen de parvenirl A mere imitation — and not a gracious one — of the arts 
of the soap vendor and the proprietor of baking-powder. When I think of 
these things, my dear Dyson, I confess that I am tempted to despair of my 

'You are too pessimistic, my dear fellow; you set up too high a standard. 
Certainly, I agree with you, that the times are decadent in many ways. I 
admit a general appearance of squalor; it needs much philosophy to extract 
the wonderful and the beautiful from the Cromwell Road or the 
Nonconformist conscience. Australian wines of fine Burgundy character, 
the novels alike of the old women and the new women, popular journalism, 
- these things, indeed, make for depression. Yet we have our advantages: 
before us is unfolded the greatest spectacle the world has ever seen — the 


mystery of the innumerable, unending streets, the strange adventures that 
must infallibly arise from so complicated a press of interests. Nay, I will 
say that he who has stood in the ways of a suburb, and has seen them 
stretch before him all shining, void, and desolate at noonday, has not lived 
in vain. Such a sight is in reality more wonderful than any perspective of 
Baghdad or Grand Cairo. And, to set on one side the entertaining history of 
the gem which you told me, surely you must have had many singular 
adventures in your own career?' 

'Perhaps not so many as you would think; a good deal - the larger part of 
my business — has been as commonplace as linen-drapery. But, of course, 
things happen now and then. It is ten years since I established my agency, 
and I suppose that a house-and-estate-agent who had been in trade for an 
equal time could tell you some queer stories. But I must give you a sample 
of my experiences some night.' 

'Why not tonight?' said Dyson. 'This evening seems to me admirably 
adapted for an odd chapter. Look out into the street; you can catch a view 
of it if you crane your neck from that chair of yours. Is it not charming? 
The double row of lamps growing closer in the distance, the hazy outline of 
the plane-tree in the square, and the lights of the hansoms swimming to and 
fro, gliding and vanishing; and above, the sky all clear and blue and 
shining. Come, let us have one of your cent nouvelles! 

'My dear Dyson, I am delighted to amuse you,' With these words Mr 
Burton prefaced the 


I think the most extraordinary event which I can recall took place about five 
years ago. I was then still feeling my way; I had declared for business, and 
attended regularly at my office; but I had not succeeded in establishing a 
really profitable connection, and consequently I had a good deal of leisure 
time on my hands. I have never thought fit to trouble you with the details of 
my private life; they would be entirely devoid of interest. I must briefly say, 
however, that I had a numerous circle of acquaintance, and was never at a 


loss as to how to spend my evenings. I was so fortunate as to have friends 
in most of the ranks of the social order; there is nothing so unfortunate, to 
my mind, as a specialised circle, wherein a certain round of ideas is 
continually traversed and retraversed. I have always tried to find out new 
types and persons whose brains contained something fresh to me; one may 
chance to gain information even from the conversation of city men on an 
omnibus. Amongst my acquaintance I knew a young doctor, who lived in a 
far outlying suburb, and I used often to brave the intolerably slow railway 
journey to have the pleasure of listening to his talk. One night we 
conversed so eagerly together over our pipes and whisky that the clock 
passed unnoticed; and when I glanced up, I realised with a shock that I had 
just five minutes in which to catch the last train. I made a dash for my hat 
and stick, jumped out of the house and down the steps, and tore at full 
speed up the street. It was no good, however; there was a shriek of the 
engine- whistle, and I stood there at the station door and saw far on the long, 
dark line of the embankment a red light shine and vanish, and a porter came 
down and shut the door with a bang. 

'How far to London?' I asked him. 

'A good nine miles to Waterloo Bridge.' And with that he went off. 

Before me was the long suburban street, its dreary distance marked by rows 
of twinkling lamps, and the air was poisoned by the faint, sickly smell of 
burning bricks; it was not a cheerful prospect by any means, and I had to 
walk through nine miles of such streets, deserted as those of Pompeii. I 
knew pretty well what direction to take, so I set out wearily, looking at the 
stretch of lamps vanishing in perspective; and as I walked, street after street 
branched off to right and left, some far-reaching, to distances that seemed 
endless, communicating with other systems of thoroughfare, and some 
mere protoplasmic streets, ing in orderly fashion with serried two-storied 
houses, and ending suddenly in waste, and pits, and rubbish-heaps, and 
fields whence the magic had departed. I have spoken of systems of 
thoroughfare, and I assure you that walking alone through these silent 
places I felt fantasy growing on me, and some glamour of the infinite. 
There was here, I felt, an immensity as in the outer void of the universe; I 


passed from unknown to unknown, my way marked by lamps like stars, 
and on either hand was an unknown world where myriads of men dwelt and 
slept, street leading into street, as it seemed to world's end. At first the road 
by which I was travelling was lined with houses of unutterable monotony, a 
wall of grey brick pierced by two stories of windows, drawn close to the 
very pavement; but by degrees I noticed an improvement, there were 
gardens, and these grew larger; the suburban builder began to allow himself 
a wider scope; and for a certain distance each flight of steps was guarded by 
twin lions of plaster, and scents of flowers prevailed over the fume of 
heated bricks. The road began to climb a hill, and looking up a side street I 
saw the half moon rise over plane-trees, and there on the other side was as 
if a white cloud had fallen, and the air around it was sweetened as with 
incense; it was a may-tree in full bloom. I pressed on stubbornly, listening 
for the wheels and the clatter of some belated hansom; but into that land of 
men who go to the city in the morning and return in the evening the hansom 
rarely enters, and I had resigned myself once more to the walk, when I 
suddenly became aware that someone was advancing to meet me along the 

The man was strolling rather aimlessly; and though the time and the place 
would have allowed an unconventional style of dress, he was vested in the 
ordinary frockcoat, black tie, and silk hat of civilisation. We met each other 
under the lamp, and, as often happens in this great town, two casual 
passengers brought face to face found each in the other an acquaintance. 

'Mr Mathias, I think?' I said. 

'Quite so. And you are Frank Burton. You know you are a man with a 
Christian name, so I won't apologise for my familiarity. But may I ask 
where you are going?' 

I explained the situation to him, saying I had traversed a region as unknown 
to me as the darkest recesses of Africa. 'I think I have only about five miles 
further,' I concluded. 


'Nonsense! you must come home with me. My house is close by; in fact, I 
was just taking my evening walk when we met. Come along; I dare say you 
will find a makeshift bed easier than a five-mile walk.' 

I let him take my arm and lead me along, though I was a good deal 
surprised at so much geniality from a man who was, after all, a mere casual 
club acquaintance. I suppose I had not spoken to Mr Mathias half a dozen 
times; he was a man who would sit silent in an armchair for hours, neither 
reading nor smoking, but now and again moistening his lips with his tongue 
and smiling queerly to himself. I confess he had never attracted me, and on 
the whole I should have preferred to continue my walk. 

But he took my arm and led me up a side street, and stopped at a door in a 
high wall. We passed through the still, moonlit garden, beneath the black 
shadow of an old cedar, and into an old red-brick house with many gables. I 
was tired enough, and I sighed with relief as I let myself fall into a great 
leather armchair. You know the infernal grit with which they strew the 
sidewalk in those suburban districts; it makes walking a penance, and I felt 
my four-mile tramp had made me more weary than ten miles on an honest 
country road. I looked about the room with some curiosity; there was a 
shaded lamp, which threw a circle of brilliant light on a heap of papers 
lying on an old brass-bound secretaire of the last century, but the room was 
all vague and shadowy, and I could only see that it was long and low, and 
that it was filled with indistinct objects which might be furniture. Mr 
Mathias sat down in a second armchair, and looked about him with that odd 
smile of his. He was a queer-looking man, clean shaven, and white to the 
lips. I should think his age was something between fifty and sixty. 

'Now I have got you here,' he began, 'I must inflict my hobby on you. You 
knew I was a collector? Oh yes, I have devoted many years to collecting 
curiosities, which I think are really curious. But we must have a better 

He advanced into the middle of the room, and lit a lamp which hung from 
the ceiling; and as the bright light flashed round the wick, from every 
corner and space there seemed to start a horror. Great wooden frames, with 


complicated apparatus of ropes and pulleys, stood against the wall; a wheel 
of strange shape had a place beside a thing that looked like a gigantic 
gridiron; little tables glittered with bright steel instruments carelessly put 
down as if ready for use; a screw and vice loomed out, casting ugly 
shadows, and in another nook was a saw with cruel jagged teeth. 

'Yes,' said Mr Mathias, 'they are, as you suggest, instruments of torture - of 
torture and death. Some — many, I may say — have been used; a few are 
reproductions after ancient examples. Those knives were used for flaying; 
that frame is a rack, and a very fine specimen. Look at this; it comes from 
Venice. You see that sort of collar, something like a big horseshoe? Well, 
the patient, let us call him, sat down quite comfortably, and the horseshoe 
was neatly fitted round his neck. Then the two ends were joined with a 
silken band, and the executioner began to turn a handle connected with the 
band. The horseshoe contracted very gradually as the band tightened, and 
the turning continued till the man was strangled. It all took place quietly, in 
one of those queer garrets under the leads. But these things are all 
European; the Orientals are, of course, much more ingenious. These are the 
Chinese contrivances; you have heard of the "Heavy Death"? It is my 
hobby, this sort of thing. Do you know, I often sit here, hour after hour, and 
meditate over the collection. I fancy I see the faces of the men who have 
suffered, faces lean with agony, and wet with sweats of death growing 
distinct out of the gloom, and I hear the echoes of their cries for mercy. But 
I must show you my latest acquisition. Come into the next room' 

I followed Mr Mathias out. The weariness of the walk, the late hour, and 
the strangeness of it all made me feel like a man in a dream; nothing would 
have surprised me very much. The second room was as the first, crowded 
with ghastly instruments; but beneath the lamp was a wooden platform, and 
a figure stood on it. It was a large statue of a naked woman, fashioned in 
green bronze, the arms were stretched out, and there was a smile on the 
lips; it might well have been intended for a Venus, and yet I there was 
about the thing an evil and a deadly look. 

Mr Mathias looked at it complacently. 'Quite a work of art, isn't it?' he said. 
'It's made of bronze, as you see, but it has long had the name of the Iron 


Maid. I got it from Germany, and it was only unpacked this afternoon; 
indeed, I have not yet had time to open the letter of advice. You see that 
very small knob between the breasts? Well, the victim was bound to the 
Maid, the knob was pressed, and the arms slowly tightened round the neck. 
You can imagine the result.' 

As Mr Mathias talked, he patted the figure affectionately. I had turned 
away, for I sickened at the sight of the man and his loathsome treasure. 
There was a slight click, of which I took no notice; it was not much louder 
than the tick of a clock; and then I heard a sudden whirr, the noise of 
machinery in motion, and I faced round. I have never forgotten the hideous 
agony on Mathias's face as those relentless arms tightened about his neck; 
there was a wild struggle as of a beast in the toils, and then a shriek that 
ended in a choking groan. The whirring noise had suddenly changed into a 
heavy droning. I tore with all my might at the bronze arms, and strove to 
wrench them apart, but I could do nothing. The head had slowly bent down, 
and the green lips were on the lips of Mathias. 

Of course, I had to attend at the inquest. The letter which had accompanied 
the figure was found unopened on the study table. The German firm of 
dealers cautioned their client to be most careful in touching the Iron Maid, 
as the machinery had put in thorough working order. 

For many revolving weeks Mr Burton delighted Dyson by his agreeable 
conversation, diversified by anecdote, and interspersed with the narration of 
singular adventures. Finally, however, he vanished as suddenly as he had 
appeared, and on the occasion of his last visit he contrived to loot a copy of 
his namesake's Anatomy. Dyson, considering this violent attack on the 
rights of property, and certain glaring inconsistencies in the talk of his late 
friend, arrived at the conclusion that his stories were fabulous, and that the 
Iron Maid only existed in the sphere of a decorative imagination. 


Amongst the many friends who were favoured with the occasional pleasure 
of Mr Dyson's society was Mr Edgar Russell, realist and obscure struggler, 


who occupied a small back room on the second floor of a house in 
Abingdon Grove, Notting Hill. Turning off from the main street, and 
walking a few paces onward, one was conscious of a certain calm, a drowsy 
peace, which made the feet inclined to loiter, and this was ever the 
atmosphere of Abingdon Grove. The houses stood a little back, with 
gardens where the lilac, and laburnum, and blood-red may blossomed gaily 
in their seasons, and there was a corner where an older house in another 
street had managed to keep a back garden of real extent, a walled-in garden, 
whence there came a pleasant scent of greenness after the rains of early 
summer, where old elms held memories of the open fields, where there was 
yet sweet grass to walk on. The houses in Abingdon Grove belonged 
chiefly to the nondescript stucco period of thirty-five years ago, tolerably 
built, with passable accommodation for moderate incomes; they had largely 
passed into the state of lodgings, and cards bearing the inscription 
'Furnished Apartments' were not infrequent over the doors. Here, then, in a 
house of sufficiently good appearance, Mr Russell had established himself; 
for he looked upon the traditional dirt and squalor of Grub Street as a false 
and obsolete convention, and preferred, as he said, to live within sight of 
green leaves. Indeed, from his room one had a magnificent view of a long 
line of gardens, and a screen of poplars shut out the melancholy back 
premises of Wilton Street during the summer months. Mr Russell lived 
chiefly on bread and tea, for his means were of the smallest; but when 
Dyson came to see him, he would send out the slavey for six ale, and 
Dyson was always at liberty to smoke as much of his own tobacco as he 
pleased. The landlady had been so unfortunate as to have her drawing-room 
floor vacant for many months; a card had long proclaimed the void within; 
and Dyson, when he walked up the steps one evening in early autumn, had 
a sense that something was missing, and, looking at the fanlight, saw the 
appealing card had disappeared. 

'You have let your first floor, have you?' he said, as he greeted Mr Russell. 

'Yes; it was taken about a fortnight ago by a lady.' 

'Indeed,' said Dyson, always curious; 'a young lady?' 


'Yes; I believe so. She is a widow, and wears a thick crape veil. I have met 
her once or twice on the stairs and in the street; but I should not know her 

'Well,' said Dyson, when the beer had arrived, and the pipes were in full 
blast, 'and what have you been doing? Do you find the work getting any 

'Alas!' said the young man, with an expression of great gloom, 'the life is a 
purgatory, and all but a hell. I write, picking out my words, weighing and 
balancing the force of every syllable, calculating the minutest effects that 
language can produce, erasing and rewriting and spending a whole evening 
over a page of manuscript. And then, in the morning, when I read what I 
have written - Well, there is nothing to be done but to throw it in the 
waste-paper basket, if the verso has been already written on, or to put it in 
the drawer if the other side happens to be clean. When I have written a 
phrase which undoubtedly embodies a happy turn of thought, I find it 
dressed up in feeble commonplace; and when the style is good, it serves 
only to conceal the baldness of superannuated fancies. I sweat over my 
work, Dyson - every finished line means so much agony. I envy the lot of 
the carpenter in the side street who has a craft which he understands. When 
he gets an order for a table he does not writhe with anguish; but if I were so 
unlucky as to get an order for a book, I think I should go mad.' 

'My dear fellow, you take it all too seriously. You should let the ink flow 
more readily. Above all, firmly believe, when you sit down to write, that 
you are an artist, and that whatever you are about is a masterpiece. Suppose 
ideas fail you, say, as I heard one of our most exquisite artists say, "It's of 
no consequence; the ideas are all there, at the bottom of that box of 
cigarettes!" You, indeed, smoke a pipe, but the application is the same. 
Besides, you must have some happy moments; and these should be ample 

'Perhaps you are right. But such moments are so few; and then there is the 
torture of a glorious conception matched with execution beneath the 
standard of the "Family Story Paper". For instance, I was happy for two 


hours a night or two ago; I lay awake and saw visions. But then the 

'What was your idea?' 

'It seemed to me a splendid one: I thought of Balzac and the Comedie 
Humaine, of Zola and the Rougon-Macquart family. It dawned upon me 
that I would write the history of a street. Every house should form a 
volume. I fixed upon the street, I saw each house, and read as clearly as in 
letters the physiology and psychology of each; the little byway stretched 
before me in its actual shape - a street that I know and have passed down a 
hundred times, with some twenty houses, prosperous and mean, and lilac 
bushes in purple blossom. And yet it was, at the same time, a symbol, a via 
dolorosa of hopes cherished and disappointed, of years of monotonous 
existence without content or discontent, of tragedies and obscure sorrows; 
and on the door of one of those houses I saw the red stain of blood, and 
behind a window two shadows, blackened and faded on the blind, as they 
swayed on tightened cords — the shadows of a man and a woman hanging 
in a vulgar gas lit parlour. These were my fancies; but when pen touched 
paper they shrivelled and vanished away.' 

'Yes,' said Dyson, 'there is a lot in that. I envy you the pains of transmuting 
vision into reality, and, still more, I envy you the day when you will look at 
your bookshelf and see twenty goodly books upon the shelves - the series 
complete and done for ever. Let me entreat you to have them bound in solid 
parchment with gold lettering. It is the only real cover for a valiant book. 
When I look in at the windows of some choice shop, and see the bindings 
of levant morocco, with pretty tools and panellings, and your sweet 
contrasts of red and green, I say to myself, "These are not books, but 
bibelots". A book bound so - a true book, mind you - is like a Gothic 
statue draped in brocade of Lyons.' 

'Alas ! ' said Russell, 'we need not discuss the binding - the books are not 


The talk went on as usual till eleven o'clock, when Dyson bade his friend 
good-night. He knew the way downstairs, and walked down by himself; 
but, greatly to his surprise, as he crossed the first-floor landing the door 
opened slightly, and a hand was stretched out, beckoning. 

Dyson was not the man to hesitate under such circumstances. In a moment 
he saw himself involved in adventure; and, as he told himself, the Dysons 
had never disobeyed a lady's summons. Softly, then, with due regard for the 
lady's honour, he would have entered the room, when a low but clear voice 
spoke to him 'Go downstairs and open the door and shut it again rather 
loudly. Then come up to me; and for Heaven's sake, walk softly.' 

Dyson obeyed her commands, not without some hesitation, for he was 
afraid of meeting the landlady or the maid on his return journey. But, 
walking like a cat, and making each step he trod on crack loudly, he 
flattered himself that he had escaped observation; and as he gained the top 
of the stairs the door opened wide before him, and he found himself in the 
lady's drawing-room, bowing awkwardly. 

'Pray be seated, sir. Perhaps this chair will be the best; it was the favoured 
chair of my landlady's deceased husband. I would ask you to smoke, but the 
odour would betray me. I know my proceedings must seem to you 
unconventional; but I saw you arrive this evening, and I do not think you 
would refuse to help a woman who is so unfortunate as I am.' 

Mr Dyson looked shyly at the young lady before him. She was dressed in 
deep mourning, but the piquant smiling face and charming hazel eyes ill 
accorded with the heavy garments and the mouldering surface of the crape. 

'Madam,' he said gallantly, 'your instinct has served you well. We will not 
trouble, if you please, about the question of social conventions; the 
chivalrous gentleman knows nothing of such matters. I hope I may be 
privileged to serve you.' 

'You are very kind to me, but I knew it would be so. Alas! sir, I have had 
experience of life, and I am rarely mistaken. Yet man is too often so vile 


and so misjudging that I trembled even as I resolved to take this step, 
which, for all I knew, might prove to be both desperate and ruinous.' 

'With me you have nothing to fear,' said Dyson. I was nurtured in the faith 
of chivalry, and I have always endeavoured to remember the proud 
traditions of my race. Confide in me, then, and count upon my secrecy, and 
if it prove possible, you may rely on my help.' 

'Sir, I will not waste your time, which I am sure is valuable, by idle 
parleyings. Learn, then, that I am a fugitive, and in hiding here; I place 
myself in your power; you have but to describe my features, and I fall into 
the hands of my relentless enemy.' 

Mr Dyson wondered for a passing instant how this could be, but he only 
renewed his promise of silence, repeating that he would be the embodied 
spirit of dark concealment. 

'Good,' said the lady, 'the Oriental fervour of your style is delightful. In the 
first place, I must disabuse your mind of the conviction that I am a widow. 
These gloomy vestments have been forced on me by strange circumstance; 
in plain language, I have deemed it expedient to go disguised. You have a 
friend, I think, in the house, Mr Russell? He seems of a coy and retiring 

'Excuse me, madam,' said Dyson, 'he is not coy, but he is a realist; and 
perhaps you are aware that no Carthusian monk can emulate the cloistral 
seclusion in which a realistic novelist loves to shroud himself. It is his way 
of observing human nature.' 

'Well, well,' said the lady; 'all this, though deeply interesting, is not 
germane to our affair. I must tell you my history.' 

With these words the young lady proceeded to relate the 



My name is Leicester; my father, Major-General Wyn Leicester, a 
distinguished officer of artillery, succumbed five years ago to a 
complicated liver complaint acquired in the deadly climate of India. A year 
later my only brother, Francis, came home after a exceptionally brilliant 
career at the University, and settled down with the resolution of a hermit to 
master what has been well called the great legend of the law. He was a man 
who seemed to live in utter indifference to everything that is called 
pleasure; and though he was handsomer than most men, and could talk as 
merrily and wittily as if he were a mere vagabond, he avoided society, and 
shut himself up in a large room at the top of the house to make himself a 
lawyer. Ten hours a day of hard reading was at first his allotted portion; 
from the first light in the east to the late afternoon he remained shut up with 
his books, taking a hasty half-hour's lunch with me as if he grudged the 
wasting of the moments, and going out for a short walk when it began to 
grow dusk. I thought that such relentless application must be injurious, and 
tried to cajole him from the crabbed textbooks, but his ardour seemed to 
grow rather than diminish, and his daily tale of hours increased. I spoke to 
him seriously, suggesting some occasional relaxation, if it were but an idle 
afternoon with a harmless novel; but he laughed, and said that he read 
about feudal tenures when he felt in need of amusement, and scoffed at the 
notions of theatres, or a month's fresh air. I confessed that he looked well, 
and seemed not to suffer from his labours, but I knew that such unnatural 
toil would take revenge at last, and I was not mistaken. A look of anxiety 
began to lurk about his eyes, and he seemed languid, and at last he avowed 
that he was no longer in perfect health; he was troubled, he said, with a 
sensation of dizziness, and awoke now and then of nights from fearful 
dreams, terrified and cold with icy sweats. 'I am taking care of myself,' he 
said, 'so you must not trouble; I passed the whole of yesterday afternoon in 
idleness, leaning back in that comfortable chair you gave me, and 
scribbling nonsense on a sheet of paper. No, no; I will not overdo my work; 
I shall be well enough in a week or two, depend upon it.' 

Yet in spite of his assurances I could see that he grew no better, but rather 
worse; he would enter the drawing-room with a face all miserably wrinkled 
and despondent, and endeavour to look gaily when my eyes fell on him, 
and I thought such symptoms of evil omen, and was frightened sometimes 


at the nervous irritation of his movements, and at glances which I could not 
decipher. Much against his will, I prevailed on him to have medical advice, 
and with an ill grace he called in our old doctor. 

Dr Haberden cheered me after examination of his patient. 

There is nothing really much amiss,' he said to me. 'No doubt he reads too 
hard and eats hastily, and then goes back again to his books in too great a 
hurry, and the natural sequence is some digestive trouble and a little 
mischief in the nervous system. But I think — I do indeed, Miss Leicester - 
that we shall be able to set this all right. I have written him a prescription 
which ought to do great things. So you have no cause for anxiety.' 

My brother insisted on having the prescription made up by a chemist in the 
neighbourhood. It was an odd, old-fashioned shop, devoid of the studied 
coquetry and calculated glitter that make so gay a show on the counters and 
shelves of the modern apothecary; but Francis liked the old chemist, and 
believed in the scrupulous purity of his drugs. The medicine was sent in 
due course, and I saw that my brother took it regularly after lunch and 
dinner. It was an innocent-looking white powder, of which a little was 
dissolved in a glass of cold water; I stirred it in, and it seemed to disappear, 
leaving the water clear and colourless. At first Francis seemed to benefit 
greatly; the weariness vanished from his face, and he became more cheerful 
than he had ever been since the time when he left school; he talked gaily of 
reforming himself, and avowed to me that he had wasted his time. 

'I have given too many hours to law,' he said, laughing; 'I think you have 
saved me in the nick of time. Come, I shall be Lord Chancellor yet, but I 
must not forget life. You and I will have a holiday together before long; we 
will go to Paris and enjoy ourselves, and keep away from the Bibliotheque 

I confessed myself delighted with the prospect. 

'When shall we go?' I said. 'I can start the day after tomorrow if you like.' 


'Ah! that is perhaps a little too soon; after all, I do not know London yet, 
and I suppose a man ought to give the pleasures of his own country the first 
choice. But we will go off together in a week or two, so try and furbish up 
your French. I only know law French myself, and I am afraid that wouldn't 

We were just finishing dinner, and he quaffed off his medicine with a 
parade of carousal as if it had been wine from some choicest bin. 

'Has it any particular taste?' I said. 

'No; I should not know I was not drinking water,' and he got up from his 
chair and began to pace up and down the room as if he were undecided as 
to what he should do next. 

'Shall we have coffee in the drawing-room?' I said; 'or would you like to 

'No, I think I will take a turn; it seems a pleasant evening. Look at the 
afterglow; why, it is as if a great city were burning in flames, and down 
there between the dark houses it is raining blood fast. Yes, I will go out; I 
may be in soon, but I shall take my key; so goodnight, dear, if I don't see 
you again.' 

The door slammed behind him, and I saw him walk lightly down the street, 
swinging his malacca cane, and I felt grateful to Dr Haberden for such an 

I believe my brother came home very late that night, but he was in a merry 
mood the next morning. 

'I walked on without thinking where I was going,' he said, 'enjoying the 
freshness of the air, and livened by the crowds as I reached more frequented 
quarters. And then I met an old college friend, Orford, in the press of the 
pavement, and then — well, we enjoyed ourselves, I have felt what it is to 
be young and a man; I find I have blood in my veins, as other men have. I 


made an appointment with Orford for tonight; there will be a little party of 
us at the restaurant. Yes; I shall enjoy myself for a week or two, and hear 
the chimes at midnight, and then we will go for our little trip together.' 

Such was the transmutation of my brother's character that in a few days he 
became a lover of pleasure, a careless and merry idler of western 
pavements, a hunter out of snug restaurants, and a fine critic of fantastic 
dancing; he grew fat before my eyes, and said no more of Paris, for he had 
clearly found his paradise in London. I rejoiced, and yet wondered a little; 
for there was, I thought, something in his gaiety that indefinitely displeased 
me, though I could not have defined my feeling. But by degrees there came 
a change; he returned still in the cold hours of the morning, but I heard no 
more about his pleasures, and one morning as we sat at breakfast together I 
looked suddenly into his eyes and saw a stranger before me. 

'Oh, Francis!' I cried. 'Oh, Francis, Francis, what have you done?' and 
rending sobs cut the words short. I went weeping out of the room; for 
though I knew nothing, yet I knew all, and by some odd play of thought I 
remembered the evening when he first went abroad, and the picture of the 
sunset sky glowed before me; the clouds like a city in burning flames, and 
the rain of blood. Yet I did battle with such thoughts, resolving that 
perhaps, after all, no great harm had been done, and in the evening at dinner 
I resolved to press him to fix a day for our holiday in Paris. We had talked 
easily enough, and my brother had just taken his medicine, which he 
continued all the while. I was about to begin my topic when the words 
forming in my mind vanished, and I wondered for a second what icy and 
intolerable weight oppressed my heart and suffocated me as with the 
unutterable horror of the coffin-lid nailed down on the living. 

We had dined without candles; the room had slowly grown from twilight to 
gloom, and the walls and corners were indistinct in the shadow. But from 
where I sat I looked out into the street; and as I thought of what I would say 
to Francis, the sky began to flush and shine, as it had done on a 
well-remembered evening, and in the gap between two dark masses that 
were houses an awful pageantry of flame appeared — lurid whorls of 
writhed cloud, and utter depths burning, grey masses like the fume blown 


from a smoking city, and an evil glory blazing far above shot with tongues 
of more ardent fire, and below as if there were a deep pool of blood. I 
looked down to where my brother sat facing me, and the words were 
shaped on my lips, when I saw his hand resting on the table. Between the 
thumb and forefinger of the closed hand there was a mark, a small patch 
about the size of a six-pence, and somewhat of the colour of a bad bruise. 
Yet, by some sense I cannot define, I knew that what I saw was no bruise at 
all; oh! if human flesh could burn with flame, and if flame could be black 
as pitch, such was that before me. Without thought or fashioning of words 
grey horror shaped within me at the sight, and in an inner cell it was known 
to be a brand. For the moment the stained sky became dark as midnight, 
and when the light returned to me I was alone in the silent room, and soon 
after I heard my brother go out. 

Late as it was, I put on my hat and went to Dr Haberden, and in his great 
consulting room, ill lighted by a candle which the doctor brought in with 
him, with stammering lips, and a voice that would break in spite of my 
resolve, I told him all, from the day on which my brother began to take the 
medicine down to the dreadful thing I had seen scarcely half an hour 

When I had done, the doctor looked at me for a minute with an expression 
of great pity on his face. 

'My dear Miss Leicester,' he said, 'you have evidently been anxious about 
your brother; you have been worrying over him, I am sure. Come, now, is it 
not so?' 

'I have certainly been anxious,' I said. 'For the last week or two I have not 
felt at ease.' 

'Quite so; you know, of course, what a queer thing the brain is?' 

'I understand what you mean; but I was not deceived. I saw what I have told 
you with my own eyes.' 


'Yes, yes of course. But your eyes had been staring at that very curious 
sunset we had tonight. That is the only explanation. You will see it in the 
proper light tomorrow, I am sure. But, remember, I am always ready to give 
any help that is in my power; do not scruple to come to me, or to send for 
me if you are in any distress.' 

I went away but little comforted, all confusion and terror and sorrow, not 
knowing where to turn. When my brother and I met the next day, I looked 
quickly at him, and noticed, with a sickening at heart, that the right hand, 
the hand on which I had clearly seen the patch as of a black fire, was 
wrapped up with a handkerchief. 

'What is the matter with your hand, Francis?' I said in a steady voice. 

'Nothing of consequence. I cut a finger last night, and it bled rather 
awkwardly. So I did it up roughly to the best of my ability.' 

'I will do it neatly for you, if you like.' 

'No, thank you, dear; this will answer very well. Suppose we have 
breakfast; I am quite hungry.' 

We sat down and I watched him. He scarcely ate or drank at all, but tossed 
his meat to the dog when he thought my eyes were turned away; there was 
a look in his eyes that I had never yet seen, and the thought flashed across 
my mind that it was a look that was scarcely human. I was firmly 
convinced that awful and incredible as was the thing I had seen the night 
before, yet it was no illusion, no glamour of bewildered sense, and in the 
course of the evening I went again to the doctor's house. 

He shook his head with an air puzzled and incredulous, and seemed to 
reflect for a few minutes. 

'And you say he still keeps up the medicine? But why? As I understand, all 
the symptoms he complained of have disappeared long ago; why should he 
go on taking the stuff when he is quite well? And by the by, where did he 


get it made up? At Sayce's? I never send any one there; the old man is 
getting careless. Suppose you come with me to the chemist's; I should like 
to have some talk with him.' 

We walked together to the shop; old Sayce knew Dr Haberden, and was 
quite ready to give any information. 

'You have been sending that in to Mr Leicester for some weeks, I think, on 
my prescription,' said the doctor, giving the old man a pencilled scrap of 

The chemist put on his great spectacles with trembling uncertainty, and 
held up the paper with a shaking hand 

'Oh, yes,' he said, 'I have very little of it left; it is rather an uncommon drug, 
and I have had it in stock some time. I must get in some more, if Mr 
Leicester goes on with it.' 

'Kindly let me have a look at the stuff,' said Haberden, and the chemist gave 
him a glass bottle. He took out the stopper and smelt the contents, and 
looked strangely at the old man. 

'Where did you get this?' he said, 'and what is it? For one thing, Mr Sayce, 
it is not what I prescribed. Yes, yes, I see the label is right enough, but I tell 
you this is not the drug.' 

'I have had it a long time,' said the old man in feeble terror; 'I got it from 
Burbage's in the usual way. It is not prescribed often, and I have had it on 
the shelf for some years. You see there is very little left.' 

'You had better give it to me,' said Haberden. 'I am afraid something wrong 
has happened.' 

We went out of the shop in silence, the doctor carrying the bottle neatly 
wrapped in paper under his arm. 


'Dr Haberden,' I said, when we had walked a little way - 'Dr Haberden.' 

'Yes,' he said, looking at me gloomily enough. 

'I should like you to tell me what my brother has been taking twice a day 
for the last month or so.' 

'Frankly, Miss Leicester, I don't know. We will speak of this when we get 
to my house.' 

We walked on quickly without another word till we reached Dr Haberden's. 
He asked me to sit down, and began pacing up and down the room, his face 
clouded over, as I could see, with no common fears. 

'Well,' he said at length, 'this is all very strange; it is only natural that you 
should feel alarmed, and I must confess that my mind is far from easy. We 
will put aside, if you please, what you told me last night and this morning, 
but the fact remains that for the last few weeks Mr Leicester has been 
impregnating his system with a drug which is completely unknown to me. I 
tell you, it is not what I ordered; and what the stuff in the bottle really is 
remains to be seen.' 

He undid the wrapper, and cautiously tilted a few grains of the white 
powder on to a piece of paper, and peered curiously at it. 

'Yes,' he said, 'it is like the sulphate of quinine, as you say; it is flaky. But 
smell it.' 

He held the bottle to me, and I bent over it. It was a strange, sickly smell, 
vaporous and overpowering, like some strong anaesthetic. 

'I shall have it analysed,' said Haberden; 'I have a friend who has devoted 
his whole life to chemistry as a science. Then we shall have something to 
go upon. No, no; say no more about that other matter; I cannot listen to 
that; and take my advice and think no more about it yourself.' 


That evening my brother did not go out as usual after dinner. 

'I have had my fling,' he said with a queer laugh, 'and I must go back to my 
old ways. A little law will be quite a relaxation after so sharp a dose of 
pleasure,' and he grinned to himself, and soon after went up to his room. 
His hand was still all bandaged. 

Dr Haberden called a few days later. 

'I have no special news to give you,' he said. 'Chambers is out of town, so I 
know no more about that stuff than you do. But I should like to see Mr 
Leicester, if he is in.' 

'He is in his room,' I said; 'I will tell him you are here.' 

'No, no, I will go up to him; we will have a little quiet talk together. I dare 
say that we have made a good deal of fuss about a very little; for, after all, 
whatever the powder may be, it seems to have done him good.' 

The doctor went upstairs, and standing in the hall I heard his knock, and the 
opening and shutting of the door; and then I waited in the silent house for 
an hour, and the stillness grew more and more intense as the hands of the 
clock crept round. Then there sounded from above the noise of a door shut 
sharply, and the doctor was coming down the stairs. His footsteps crossed 
the hall, and there was a pause at the door; I drew a long, sick breath with 
difficulty, and saw my face white in a little mirror, and he came in and 
stood at the door. There was an unutterable horror shining in his eyes; he 
steadied himself by holding the back of a chair with one hand, his lower lip 
trembled like a horse's, and he gulped and stammered unintelligible sounds 
before he spoke. 

'I have seen that man,' he began in a dry whisper. 'I have been sitting in his 
presence for the last hour. My God! And I am alive and in my senses! I, 
who have dealt with death all my life, and have dabbled with the melting 
ruins of the earthly tabernacle. But not this, oh! not this,' and he covered his 
face with his hands as if to shut out the sight of something before him. 


'Do not send for me again, Miss Leicester,' he said with more composure. 'I 
can do nothing in this house. Good-bye.' 

As I watched him totter down the steps; and along the pavement towards 
his house, it seemed to me that he had aged by ten years since the morning. 

My brother remained in his room. He called out to me in a voice I hardly 
recognized that he was very busy, and would like his meals brought to his 
door and left there, and I gave the order to the servants. From that day it 
seemed as if the arbitrary conception we call time had been annihilated for 
me; I lived in an ever-present sense of horror, going through the routine of 
the house mechanically, and only speaking a few necessary words to the 
servants. Now and then I went out and paced the streets for an hour or two 
and came home again; but whether I were without or within, my spirit 
delayed before the closed door of the upper room, and, shuddering, waited 
for it to open. I have said that I scarcely reckoned time; but I suppose it 
must have been a fortnight after Dr Haberden's visit that I came home from 
my stroll a little refreshed and lightened. The air was sweet and pleasant, 
and the hazy form of green leaves, floating cloud-like in the square, and the 
smell of blossoms, had charmed my senses, and I felt happier and walked 
more briskly. As I delayed a moment at the verge of the pavement, waiting 
for a van to pass by before crossing over to the house, I happened to look 
up at the windows, and instantly there was the rush and swirl of deep cold 
waters in my ears, my heart leapt up and fell down, down as into a deep 
hollow, and I was amazed with a dread and terror without form or shape. I 
stretched out a hand blindly through the folds of thick darkness, from the 
black and shadowy valley, and held myself from falling, while the stones 
beneath my feet rocked and swayed and tilted, and the sense of solid things 
seemed to sink away from under me. I had glanced up at the window of my 
brother's study, and at that moment the blind was drawn aside, and 
something that had life stared out into the world. Nay, I cannot say I saw a 
face or any human likeness; a living thing, two eyes of burning flame 
glared at me, and they were in the midst of something as formless as my 
fear, the symbol and presence of all evil and all hideous corruption. I stood 
shuddering and quaking as with the grip of ague, sick with unspeakable 
agonies of fear and loathing, and for five minutes I could not summon force 


or motion to my limbs. When I was within the door, I ran up the stairs to 
my brother's room and knocked. 

'Francis, Francis,' I cried, 'for Heaven's sake, answer me. What is the 
horrible thing in your room? Cast it out, Francis; cast it from you.' 

I heard a noise as of feet shuffling slowly and awkwardly, and a choking, 
gurgling sound, as if some one was struggling to find utterance, and then 
the noise of a voice, broken and stifled, and words that I could scarcely 

'There is nothing here,' the voice said. 'Pray do not disturb me. I am not 
very well today.' 

I turned away, horrified, and yet helpless. I could do nothing, and I 
wondered why Francis had lied to me, for I had seen the appearance beyond 
the glass too plainly to be deceived, though it was but the sight of a 
moment. And I sat still, conscious that there had been something else, 
something I had seen in the first flash of terror, before those burning eyes 
had looked at me. Suddenly I remembered; as I lifted my face the blind was 
being drawn back, and I had had an instant's glance of the thing that was 
moving it, and in my recollection I knew that a hideous image was 
engraved forever on my brain. It was not a hand; there were no fingers that 
held the blind, but a black stump pushed it aside, the mouldering outline 
and the clumsy movement as of a beast's paw had glowed into my senses 
before the darkling waves of terror had overwhelmed me as I went down 
quick into the pit. My mind was aghast at the thought of this, and of the 
awful presence that dwelt with my brother in his room; I went to his door 
and cried to him again, but no answer came. That night one of the servants 
came up to me and told me in a whisper that for three days food had been 
regularly placed at the door and left untouched; the maid had knocked but 
had received no answer; she had heard the noise of shuffling feet that I had 
noticed. Day after day went by, and still my brother's meals were brought to 
his door and left untouched; and though I knocked and called again and 
again, I could get no answer. The servants began to talk to me; it appeared 
they were as alarmed as I; the cook said that when my brother first shut 


himself up in his room she used to hear him come out at night and go about 
the house; and once, she said, the hall door had opened and closed again, 
but for several nights she had heard no sound. The climax came at last; it 
was in the dusk of the evening, and I was sitting in the darkening dreary 
room when a terrible shriek jarred and rang harshly out of the silence, and I 
heard a frightened scurry of feet dashing down the stairs. I waited, and the 
servant-maid staggered into the room and faced me, white and trembling. 

'Oh, Miss Helen!' she whispered; 'Oh! for the Lord's sake, Miss Helen, what 
has happened? Look at my hand, Miss; look at that hand!' 

I drew her to the window, and saw there was a black wet stain upon her 

'I do not understand you,' I said. 'Will you explain to me?' 

'I was doing your room just now,' she began. 'I was turning down the 
bed-clothes, and all of a sudden there was something fell upon my hand, 
wet, and I looked up, and the ceiling was black and dripping on me.' 

I looked hard at her and bit my lip. 

'Come with me,' I said. 'Bring your candle with you.' 

The room I slept in was beneath my brother's, and as I went in I felt I was 
trembling. I looked up at the ceiling, and saw a patch, all black and wet, 
and a dew of black drops upon it, and a pool of horrible liquor soaking into 
the white bed-clothes. 

I ran upstairs and knocked loudly. 

'Oh, Francis, Francis, my dear brother,' I cried, 'what has happened to you?' 

And I listened. There was a sound of choking, and a noise like water 
bubbling and regurgitating, but nothing else, and I called louder, but no 
answer came. 


In spite of what Dr Haberden had said, I went to him; with tears streaming 
down my cheeks I told him all that had happened, and he listened to me 
with a face set hard and grim. 

'For your father's sake,' he said at last, 'I will go with you, though I can do 

We went out together; the streets were dark and silent, and heavy with heat 
and a drought of many weeks. I saw the doctor's face white under the 
gas-lamps, and when we reached the house his hand was shaking. 

We did not hesitate, but went upstairs directly. I held the lamp, and he 
called out in a loud, determined voice — 

'Mr Leicester, do you hear me? I insist on seeing you. Answer me at once.' 

There was no answer, but we both heard that choking noise I have 

'Mr Leicester, I am waiting for you. Open the door this instant, or I shall 
break it down.' And he called a third time in a voice that rang and echoed 
from the walls — 'Mr Leicester! For the last time I order you to open the 

'Ah!' he said, after a pause of heavy silence, 'we are wasting time here. Will 
you be so kind as to get me a poker, or something of the kind?' 

I ran into a little room at the back where odd articles were kept, and found a 
heavy adze-like tool that I thought might serve the doctor's purpose. 

'Very good,' he said, 'that will do, I dare say. I give you notice, Mr 
Leicester,' he cried loudly at the keyhole, 'that I am now about to break into 
your room.' 

Then I heard the wrench of the adze, and the woodwork split and cracked 
under it; with a loud crash the door suddenly burst open, and for a moment 


we started back aghast at a fearful screaming cry, no human voice, but as 
the roar of a monster, that burst forth inarticulate and struck at us out of the 

'Hold the lamp,' said the doctor, and we went in and glanced quickly round 
the room. 

'There it is,' said Dr Haberden, drawing a quick breath; 'look, in that corner.' 

I looked, and a pang of horror seized my heart as with a white-hot iron. 
There upon the floor was a dark and putrid mass, seething with corruption 
and hideous rottenness, neither liquid nor solid, but melting and changing 
before our eyes, and bubbling with unctuous oily bubbles like boiling pitch. 
And out of the midst of it shone two burning points like eyes, and I saw a 
writhing and stirring as of limbs, and something moved and lifted up what 
might have been an arm. The doctor took a step forward, raised the iron bar 
and struck at the burning points; he drove in the weapon, and struck again 
and again in the fury of loathing. At last the thing was quiet. 

A week or two later, when I had to some extent recovered from the terrible 
shock, Dr Haberden came to see me. 

'I have sold my practice,' he began, 'and tomorrow I am sailing on a long 
voyage. I do not know whether I shall ever return to England; in all 
probability I shall buy a little land in California, and settle there for the 
remainder of my life. I have brought you this packet, which you may open 
and read when you feel able to do so. It contains the report of Dr Chambers 
on what I submitted to him. Goodbye, Miss Leicester, goodbye.' 

When he was gone I opened the envelope; I could not wait, and proceeded 
to read the papers within. Here is the manuscript, and if you will allow me, 
I will read you the astounding story it contains. 

'My dear Haberden,' the letter began, 'I have delayed inexcusably in 
answering your questions as to the white substance you sent me. To tell you 
the truth, I have hesitated for some time as to what course I should adopt, 


for there is a bigotry and orthodox standard in physical science as in 
theology, and I knew that if I told you the truth I should offend rooted 
prejudices which I once held dear myself. However, I have determined to 
be plain with you, and first I must enter into a short personal explanation. 

'You have known me, Haberden, for many years as a scientific man; you 
and I have often talked of our profession together, and discussed the 
hopeless gulf that opens before the feet of those who think to attain to truth 
by any means whatsoever except the beaten way of experiment and 
observation in the sphere of material things. I remember the scorn with 
which you have spoken to me of men of science who have dabbled a little 
in the unseen, and have timidly hinted that perhaps the senses are not, after 
all, the eternal, impenetrable bounds of all knowledge, the everlasting walls 
beyond which no human being has ever passed. We have laughed together 
heartily, and I think justly, at the "occult" follies of the day, disguised under 
various names — the mesmerisms, spiritualisms, materializations, 
theosophies, all the rabble rout of imposture, with their machinery of poor 
tricks and feeble conjuring, the true back-parlour of shabby London streets. 
Yet, in spite of what I have said, I must confess to you that I am no 
materialist, taking the word of course in its usual signification. It is now 
many years since I have convinced myself — convinced myself, a sceptic, 
remember — that the old ironbound theory is utterly and entirely false. 
Perhaps this confession will not wound you so sharply as it would have 
done twenty years ago; for I think you cannot have failed to notice that for 
some time hypotheses have been advanced by men of pure science which 
are nothing less than transcendental, and I suspect that most modern 
chemists and biologists of repute would not hesitate to subscribe the dictum 
of the old Schoolman, Omnia exeunt in mysterium, which means, I take it, 
that every branch of human knowledge if traced up to its source and final 
principles vanishes into mystery. I need not trouble you now with a detailed 
account of the painful steps which led me to my conclusions; a few simple 
experiments suggested a doubt as to my then standpoint, and a train of 
thought that rose from circumstances comparatively trifling brought me far; 
my old conception of the universe has been swept away, and I stand in a 
world that seems as strange and awful to me as the endless waves of the 
ocean seen for the first time, shining, from a peak in Darien. Now I know 


that the walls of sense that seemed so impenetrable, that seemed to loom up 
above the heavens and to be founded below the depths, and to shut us in for 
evermore, are no such everlasting impassable barriers as we fancied, but 
thinnest and most airy veils that melt away before the seeker, and dissolve 
as the early mist of the morning about the brooks. I know that you never 
adopted the extreme materialistic position; you did not go about trying to 
prove a universal negative, for your logical sense withheld you from that 
crowning absurdity; but I am sure that you will find all that I am saying 
strange and repellent to your habits of thought. Yet, Haberden, what I tell 
you is the truth, nay, to adopt our common language, the sole and scientific 
truth, verified by experience; and the universe is verily more splendid and 
more awful than we used to dream. The whole universe, my friend, is a 
tremendous sacrament; a mystic, ineffable force and energy, veiled by an 
outward form of matter; and man, and the sun and the other stars, and the 
flower of the grass, and the crystal in the test-tube, are each and every one 
as spiritual, as material, and subject to an inner working. 

'You will perhaps wonder, Haberden, whence all this tends; but I think a 
little thought will make it clear. You will understand that from such a 
standpoint the whole view of things is changed, and what we thought 
incredible and absurd may be possible enough. In short, we must look at 
legend and belief with other eyes, and be prepared to accept tales that had 
become mere fables. Indeed this is no such great demand. After all, modern 
science will concede as much, in a hypocritical manner; you must not, it is 
true, believe in witchcraft, but you may credit hypnotism; ghosts are out of 
date, but there is a good deal to be said for the theory of telepathy. Give 
superstition a Greek name, and believe in it, should almost be a proverb. 

'So much for my personal explanation. You sent me, Haberden, a phial, 
stoppered and sealed, containing a small quantity of flaky white powder, 
obtained from a chemist who has been dispensing it to one of your patients. 
I am not surprised to hear that this powder refused to yield any results to 
your analysis. It is a substance which was known to a few many hundred 
years ago, but which I never expected to have submitted to me from the 
shop of a modern apothecary. There seems no reason to doubt the truth of 
the man's tale; he no doubt got, as he says, the rather uncommon salt you 


prescribed from the wholesale chemist's, and it has probably remained on 
his shelf for twenty years, or perhaps longer. Here what we call chance and 
coincidence begin to work; during all these years the salt in the bottle was 
exposed to certain recurring variations of temperature, variations probably 
ranging from 40° to 80°. And, as it happens, such changes, recurring year 
after year at irregular intervals, and with varying degrees of intensity and 
duration, have constituted a process, and a process so complicated and so 
delicate, that I question whether modern scientific apparatus directed with 
the utmost precision could produce the same result. The white powder you 
sent me is something very different from the drug you prescribed; it is the 
powder from which the wine of the Sabbath, the Vinum Sabbati, was 
prepared. No doubt you have read of the Witches' Sabbath, and have 
laughed at the tales which terrified our ancestors; the black cats, and the 
broomsticks, and dooms pronounced against some old woman's cow. Since 
I have known the truth I have often reflected that it is on the whole a happy 
thing that such burlesque as this is believed, for it serves to conceal much 
that it is better should not be known generally. However, if you care to read 
the appendix to Payne Knight's monograph, you will find that the true 
Sabbath was something very different, though the writer has very nicely 
refrained from printing all he knew. The secrets of the true Sabbath were 
the secrets of remote times surviving into the Middle Ages, secrets of an 
evil science which existed long before Aryan man entered Europe. Men and 
women, seduced from their homes on specious pretences, were met by 
beings well qualified to assume, as they did assume, the part of devils, and 
taken by their guides to some desolate and lonely place, known to the 
initiate by long tradition, and unknown to all else. Perhaps it was a cave in 
some bare and windswept hill, perhaps some inmost recess of a great forest, 
and there the Sabbath was held. There, in the blackest hour of night, the 
Vinum Sabbati was prepared, and this evil gruel was poured forth and 
offered to the neophytes, and they partook of an infernal sacrament; 
sumentes calicem principis inferorum, as an old author well expresses it. 
And suddenly, each one that had drunk found himself attended by a 
companion, a share of glamour and unearthly allurement, beckoning him 
apart, to share in joys more exquisite, more piercing than the thrill of any 
dream, to the consummation of the marriage of the Sabbath. It is hard to 
write of such things as these, and chiefly because that shape that allured 


with loveliness was no hallucination, but, awful as it is to express, the man 
himself. By the power of that Sabbath wine, a few grains of white powder 
thrown into a glass of water, the house of life was riven asunder and the 
human trinity dissolved, and the worm which never dies, that which lies 
sleeping within us all, was made tangible and an external thing, and clothed 
with a garment of flesh. And then, in the hour of midnight, the primal fall 
was repeated and re-presented, and the awful thing veiled in the mythos of 
the Tree in the Garden was done anew. Such was the nuptice Sabbati. 

'I prefer to say no more; you, Haberden, know as well as I do that the most 
trivial laws of life are not to be broken with impunity; and for so terrible an 
act as this, in which the very inmost place of the temple was broken open 
and defiled, a terrible vengeance followed. What began with corruption 
ended also with corruption.' 

Underneath is the following in Dr Haberden's writing: — 

The whole of the above is unfortunately strictly and entirely true. Your 
brother confessed all to me on that morning when I saw him in his room. 
My attention was first attracted to the bandaged hand, and I forced him to 
show it to me. What I saw made me, a medical man of many years' 
standing, grow sick with loathing, and the story I was forced to listen to 
was infinitely more frightful than I could have believed possible. It has 
tempted me to doubt the Eternal Goodness which can permit nature to offer 
such hideous possibilities; and if you had not with your own eyes seen the 
end, I should have said to you - disbelieve it all. I have not, I think, many 
more weeks to live, but you are young, and may forget all this.' JOSEPH 

In the course of two or three months I heard that Dr Haberden had died at 
sea shortly after the ship left England. 

Miss Leicester ceased speaking, and looked pathetically at Dyson, who 
could not refrain from exhibiting some symptoms of uneasiness. 


He stuttered out some broken phrases expressive of his deep interest in her 
extraordinary history, and then said with a better grace — 

'But pardon me, Miss Leicester, I understood you were in some difficulty. 
You were kind enough to ask me to assist you in some way.' 

'Ah,' she said, 'I had forgotten that; my own present trouble seems of such 
little consequence in comparison with what I have told you. But as you are 
so good to me, I will go on. You will scarcely believe it, but I found that 
certain persons suspected, or rather pretended to suspect, that I had 
murdered my brother. These persons were relatives of mine, and their 
motives were extremely sordid ones; but I actually found myself subject to 
the shameful indignity of being watched. Yes, sir, my steps were dogged 
when I went abroad, and at home I found myself exposed to constant if 
artful observation. With my high spirit this was more than I could brook, 
and I resolved to set my wits to work and elude the persons who were 
shadowing me. I was so fortunate as to succeed; I assumed this disguise, 
and for some time have lain snug and unsuspected. But of late I have reason 
to believe that the pursuer is on my track; unless I am greatly deceived, I 
saw yesterday the detective who is charged with the odious duty of 
observing my movements. You, sir, are watchful and keen-sighted; tell me, 
did you see anyone lurking about this evening?' 

'I hardly think so,' said Dyson, 'but perhaps you would give me some 
description of the detective in question.' 

'Certainly; he is a youngish man, dark, with dark whiskers. He has adopted 
spectacles of large size in the hope of disguising himself effectually, but he 
cannot disguise his uneasy manner, and the quick, nervous glances he casts 
to right and left.' 

This piece of description was the last straw for the unhappy Dyson, who 
was foaming with impatience to get out of the house, and would gladly 
have sworn eighteenth- century oaths, if propriety had not frowned on such 
a course. 


'Excuse me, Miss Leicester,' he said with cool politeness, 'I cannot assist 

'Ah,' she said sadly, 'I have offended you in some way. Tell me what I have 
done, and I will ask you to forgive me.' 

'You are mistaken,' said Dyson, grabbing his hat, but speaking with some 
difficulty; 'you have done nothing. But, as I say, I cannot help you. 
Perhaps,' he added, with some tinge of sarcasm, 'my friend Russell might 
be of service.' 

'Thank you,' she replied; 'I will try him,' and the lady went off into a shriek 
of laughter, which filled up Mr Dyson's cup of scandal and confusion. 

He left the house shortly afterwards, and had the peculiar delight of a 
five-mile walk, through streets which slowly changed from black to grey, 
and from grey to shining passages of glory for the sun to brighten. 

Here and there he met or overtook strayed revellers, but he reflected that no 
one could have spent the night in a more futile fashion than himself; and 
when he reached his home he had made resolves for reformation. He 
decided that he would abjure all Milesian and Arabian methods of 
entertainment, and subscribe to Mudie's for a regular supply of mild and 
innocuous romance. 


Mr Dyson had inhabited for some years a couple of rooms in a moderately 
quiet street in Bloomsbury, where, as he somewhat pompously expressed it, 
he held his finger on the pulse of life without being deafened with the 
thousand rumours of the main arteries of London. It was to him a source of 
peculiar, if esoteric, gratification that from the adjacent comer of 
Tottenham Court Road a hundred lines of omnibuses went to the four 
quarters of the town; he would dilate on the facilities for visiting Dalston, 
and dwell on the admirable line that knew extremest Ealing and the streets 
beyond Whitechapel. His rooms, which had been originally 'furnished 


apartments', he had gradually purged of their more peccant parts; and 
though one would not find here the glowing splendours of his old chambers 
in the street off the Strand, there was something of severe grace about the 
appointments which did credit to his taste. The rugs were old, and of the 
true faded beauty; the etchings, nearly all of them proofs printed by the 
artist, made a good show with broad white margins and black frames, and 
there was no spurious black oak. Indeed, there was but little furniture of 
any kind: a plain and honest table, square and sturdy, stood in one corner; a 
seventeenth-century settle fronted the hearth; and two wooden elbow-chairs 
and a bookshelf of the Empire made up the equipment, with an exception 
worthy of note. For Dyson cared for none of these things; his place was at 
his own bureau, a quaint old piece of lacquered- work, at which he would sit 
for hour after hour, with his back to the room, engaged in the desperate 
pursuit of literature, or, as he termed his profession, the chase of the phrase. 
The neat array of pigeon-holes and drawers teemed and overflowed with 
manuscript and notebooks, the experiments and efforts of many years; and 
the inner well, a vast and cavernous receptacle, was stuffed with 
accumulated ideas. Dyson was a craftsman who loved all the detail and the 
technique of his work intensely; and if, as has been hinted, he deluded 
himself a little with the name of artist, yet his amusements were eminently 
harmless, and, so far as can be ascertained, he (or the publishers) had 
chosen the good part of not tiring the world with printed matter. 

Here, then, Dyson would shut himself up with his fancies, experimenting 
with words, and striving, as his friend the recluse of Bayswater strove, with 
the almost invincible problem of style, but always with a fine confidence, 
extremely different from the chronic depression of the realist. He had been 
almost continuously at work on some scheme that struck him as well-nigh 
magical in its possibilities since the night of his adventure with the 
ingenious tenant of the first floor in Abingdon Grove; and as he laid down 
the pen with a glow of triumph, he reflected that he had not viewed the 
streets for five days in succession. With all the enthusiasm of his 
accomplished labour still working in his brain, he put away his papers and 
went out, pacing the pavement at first in that rare mood of exultation which 
finds in every stone upon the way the possibilities of a masterpiece. It was 
growing late, and the autumn evening was drawing to a close amidst veils 


of haze and mist, and in the stilled air the voices, and the roaring traffic, 
and incessant feet seemed to Dyson like the noise upon the stage when all 
the house is silent. In the square the leaves rippled down as quick as 
summer rain, and the street beyond was beginning to flare with the lights in 
the butchers' shops and the vivid illumination of the greengrocer. It was a 
Saturday night, and the swarming populations of the slums were turning out 
in force; the battered women in rusty black had begun to paw the lumps of 
cagmag, and others gloated over unwholesome cabbages, and there was a 
brisk demand for four ale. Dyson passed through these night- fires with 
some relief; he loved to meditate, but his thoughts were not as De 
Quincey's after his dose; he cared not two straws whether onions were dear 
or cheap, and would not have exulted if meat had fallen to twopence a 
pound. Absorbed in the wilderness of the tale he had been writing, 
weighing nicely the points of plot and construction, relishing the 
recollection of this and that happy phrase, and dreading failure here and 
there, he left the rush and whistle of the gas-flares behind him, and began to 
touch upon pavements more deserted. 

He had turned, without taking note, to the northward, and was passing 
through an ancient fallen street, where now notices of floors and offices to 
let hung out, but still about it lingered the grace and the stiffness of the Age 
of Wigs - a broad roadway, a broad pavement, and on each side a grave 
line of houses with long and narrow windows flush with the walls, all of 
mellowed brickwork. Dyson walked with quick steps, as he resolved that 
short work must be made of a certain episode; but he was in that happy 
humour of invention, and another chapter rose in the inner chamber of his 
brain, and he dwelt on the circumstances he was to write down with curious 
pleasure. It was charming to have the quiet streets to walk in, and in his 
thought he made a whole district the cabinet of his studies, and vowed he 
would come again. Heedless of his course, he struck off to the east again, 
and soon found himself involved in a squalid network of grey two-storied 
houses, and then in the waste void and elements of brickwork, the passages 
and unmade roads behind great factory walls, encumbered with the refuse 
of the neighbourhood, forlorn, illlighted, and desperate. A brief turn, and 
there rose before him the unexpected, a hill suddenly lifted from the level 
ground, its steep ascent marked by the lighted lamps, and eager as an 


explorer, Dyson found his way to the place, wondering where his crooked 
paths had brought him. Here all was again decorous, but hideous in the 
extreme. The builder, some one lost in the deep gloom of the early 
'twenties, had conceived the idea of twin villas in grey brick, shaped in a 
manner to recall the outlines of the Parthenon, each with its classic form 
broadly marked with raised bands of stucco. The name of the street was all 
strange, and for a further surprise the top of the hill was crowned with an 
irregular plot of grass and fading trees, called a square, and here again the 
Parthenon-motive had persisted. Beyond, the streets were curious, wild in 
their irregularities, here a row of sordid, dingy dwellings, dirty and 
disreputable in appearance, and there, without warning, stood a house, 
genteel and prim, with wire blinds and brazen knocker, as clean and trim as 
if it had been the doctor's house in some benighted little country town. 
These surprises and discoveries began to exhaust Dyson, and he hailed with 
delight the blazing windows of a public-house, and went in with the 
intention of testing the beverage provided for the dwellers in this region, as 
remote as Libya and Pamphylia and the parts about Mesopotamia. The 
babble of voices from within warned him that he was about to assist at the 
true parliament of the London workman, and he looked about him for that 
more retired entrance called private. When he had settled himself on an 
exiguous bench, and had ordered some beer, he began to listen to the 
jangling talk in the public bar beyond; it was a senseless argument, 
alternately furious and maudlin, with appeals to Bill and Tom, and 
mediaeval survivals of speech, words that Chaucer wrote belched out with 
zeal and relish, and the din of pots jerked down and coppers rapped smartly 
on the zinc counter made a thorough bass for it all. Dyson was calmly 
smoking his pipe between the sips of beer, when an indefinite-looking 
figure slid rather than walked into the compartment. The man started 
violently when he saw Dyson placidly sitting in the corner, and glanced 
keenly about him. He seemed to be on wires, controlled by some electric 
machine, for he almost bolted out of the door when the barman asked with 
what he could serve him, and his hand shivered as he took the glass. Dyson 
inspected him with a little curiosity. He was muffled up almost to the lips, 
and a soft felt hat was drawn down over his eyes; he looked as if he shrank 
from every glance, and a more raucous voice suddenly uplifted in the 
public bar seemed to find in him a sympathy that made him shake and 


quiver like a jelly. It was pitiable to see anyone so thrilled with 
nervousness, and Dyson was about to address some trivial remark of casual 
inquiry to the man, when another person came into the compartment, and, 
laying a hand on his arm, muttered something in an undertone, and 
vanished as he came. But Dyson had recognized him as the 
smooth-tongued and smoothshaven Burton; and yet he thought little of it, 
for his whole faculty of observation was absorbed in the lamentable and yet 
grotesque spectacle before him. At the first touch of the hand on his arm the 
unfortunate man had wheeled round as if spun on a pivot, and shrank back 
with a low, piteous cry, as if some dumb beast were caught in the toils. The 
blood fled away from the wretch's face, and the skin became grey as if a 
shadow of death had passed in the air and fallen on it, and Dyson caught a 
choking whisper, 'Mr Davies ! For God's sake, have pity on me, Mr Davies ! 
On my oath, I say -' and his voice sank to silence as he heard the message, 
and strove in vain to bite his lips, and summon up to his aid some tinge of 
manhood. He stood there a moment, wavering as the leaves of an aspen, 
and then he was gone out into the street, as Dyson thought silently, with his 
doom upon his head. He had not been gone a minute when it suddenly 
flashed into Dyson's mind that he knew the man; it was undoubtedly the 
young man with spectacles for whom so many ingenious persons were 
searching; the spectacles indeed were missing; but the pale face, the dark 
whiskers, and the timid glances were enough to identify him. Dyson saw at 
once that by a succession of hazards he had unawares hit upon the scent of 
some desperate conspiracy, wavering as the track of a loathsome snake in 
and out of the highways and byways of the London cosmos; the truth was 
instantly pictured before him, and he divined that all unconscious and 
unheeding he had been privileged to see the shadows of hidden forms, 
chasing and hurrying, and grasping and vanishing across the bright curtain 
of common life, soundless and silent, or only babbling fables and pretences. 
For him in an instant the jargoning of voices, the garish splendour, and all 
the vulgar tumult of the public-house became part of magic; for here before 
his eyes a scene in this grim mystery play had been enacted, and he had 
seen human flesh grow grey with a palsy of fear; the very hell of cowardice 
and terror had gaped wide within an arm's-breadth. In the midst of these 
reflections the barman came up and stared at him as if to hint that he had 
exhausted his right to take his ease, and Dyson bought another lease of the 


seat by an order for more beer. As he pondered the brief glimpse of tragedy, 
he recollected that with his first start of haunted fear the young man with 
whiskers had drawn his hand swiftly from his greatcoat pocket, and that he 
had heard something fall to the ground; and pretending to have dropped his 
pipe, Dyson began to grope in the corner, searching with his fingers. He 
touched something and drew it gently to him, and with one brief glance, as 
he put it quietly in his pocket, he saw it was a little old-fashioned notebook, 
bound in faded green morocco. 

He drank down his beer at a gulp, and left the place, overjoyed at his 
fortunate discovery, and busy with conjecture as to the possible importance 
of the find. By turns he dreaded to find perhaps mere blank leaves, or the 
laboured follies of a betting-book, but the faded morocco cover seemed to 
promise better things, and to hint at mysteries. He piloted himself with no 
little difficulty out of the sour and squalid quarter he had entered with a 
light heart, and emerging at Gray's Inn Road, struck off down Guilford 
Street and hastened home, only anxious for a lighted candle and solitude. 
Dyson sat down at his bureau, and placed the little book before him; it was 
an effort to open the leaves and dare disappointment. But in desperation at 
last he laid his finger between the pages at haphazard, and rejoiced to see a 
compact range of writing with a margin, and as it chanced, three words 
caught his glance and stood out apart from the mass. Dyson read 

'the Gold Tiberius,' 

and his face flushed with fortune and the lust of the hunter. 

He turned at once to the first leaf of the pocket-book, and proceeded to read 
with rapt interest the 


From the filthy and obscure lodging, situated, I verily believe, in one of the 
foulest slums of Clerkenwell, I indite this history of a life which, daily 
threatened, cannot last for very much longer. Every day — nay, every hour, 
I know too well my enemies are drawing their nets closer about me; even 


now I am condemned to be a close prisoner in my squalid room, and I 
know that when I go out I shall go to my destruction. This history, if it 
chance to fall into good hands, may, perhaps, be of service in warning 
young men of the dangers and pitfalls that most surely must accompany 
any deviation from the ways of rectitude. 

My name is Joseph Walters. When I came of age I found myself in 
possession of a small but sufficient income, and I determined that I would 
devote my life to scholarship. I do not mean the scholarship of these days; I 
had no intention of associating myself with men whose lives are spent in 
the unspeakably degrading occupation of 'editing' classics, befouling the 
fair margins of the fairest books with idle and superfluous annotation, and 
doing their utmost to give a lasting disgust of all that is beautiful. An abbey 
church turned to the base use of a stable or bakehouse is a sorry sight; but 
more pitiable still is a masterpiece spluttered over with the commentator's 
pen, and his hideous mark 'cf . 

For my part, I chose the glorious career of scholar in its ancient sense; I 
longed to possess encyclopaedic learning, to grow old amongst books, to 
distil day by day, and year after year, the inmost sweetness of all worthy 
writings. I was not rich enough to collect a library, and I was therefore 
forced to betake myself to the Reading-Room of the British Museum. 

O dim, far- lifted, and mighty dome, Mecca of many minds, mausoleum of 
many hopes, sad house where all desires fail! For there men enter in with 
hearts uplifted, and dreaming minds, seeing in those exalted stairs a ladder 
to fame, in that pompous portico the gate of knowledge, and going in, find 
but vain vanity, and all but in vain. There, when the long streets are ringing, 
is silence, there eternal twilight, and the odour of heaviness. But there the 
blood flows thin and cold, and the brain burns adust; there is the hunt of 
shadows, and the chase of embattled phantoms; a striving against ghosts, 
and a war that has no victory. O dome, tomb of the quick! surely in thy 
galleries, where no reverberant voice can call, sighs whisper ever, and 
mutterings of dead hopes; and there men's souls mount like moths towards 
the flame, and fall scorched and blackened beneath thee, O dim, far-lifted, 
and mighty dome! 


Bitterly do I now regret the day when I took my place at a desk for the first 
time, and began my studies. I had not been an habitue of the place for many 
months, when I became acquainted with a serene and benevolent 
gentleman, a man somewhat past middle age, who nearly always occupied 
a desk next to mine. In the Reading-Room it takes little to make an 
acquaintance - a casual offer of assistance, a hint as to the search in the 
catalogue, and the ordinary politeness of men who constantly sit near each 
other; it was thus I came to know the man calling himself Dr Lipsius. By 
degrees I grew to look for his presence, and to miss him when he was away, 
as was sometimes the case, and so a friendship sprang up between us. His 
immense range of learning was placed freely at my service; he would often 
astonish me by the way in which he would sketch out in a few minutes the 
bibliography of a given subject, and before long I had confided to him my 

'Ah,' he said, 'you should have been a German. I was like that myself when 
I was a boy. It is a wonderful resolve, an infinite career. I will know all 
things; yes, it is a device indeed. But it means this - a life of labour without 
end, and a desire unsatisfied at last. The scholar has to die, and die saying, 
"I know very little!'" 

Gradually, by speeches such as these, Lipsius seduced me: he would praise 
the career, and at the same time hint that it was as hopeless as the search for 
the philosopher's stone, and so by artful suggestions, insinuated with 
infinite address, he by degrees succeeded in undermining all my principles. 
'After all,' he used to say, 'the greatest of all sciences, the key to all 
knowledge, is the science and art of pleasure. Rabelais was perhaps the 
greatest of all the encyclopaedic scholars; and he, as you know, wrote the 
most remarkable book that has ever been written. And what does he teach 
men in this book? Surely the joy of living. I need not remind you of the 
words, suppressed in most of the editions, the key of all the Rabelaisian 
mythology, of all the enigmas of his grand philosophy, Vivez Joyeux. There 
you have all his learning; his work is the institutes of pleasure as the fine 
art; the finest art there is; the art of all arts. Rabelais had all science, but he 
had all I life too. And we have gone a long way since his time. You are 
enlightened, I think; you do not consider all the petty rules and by-laws that 


a corrupt society has made for its own selfish convenience as the 
immutable decrees of the Eternal.' 

Such were the doctrines that he preached; and it was by such insidious 
arguments, line upon line, here a little and there a little, that he at last 
succeeded in making me a man at war with the whole social system. I used 
to long for some opportunity to break the chains and to live a free life, to be 
my own rule and measure. I viewed existence with the eyes of a pagan, and 
Lipsius understood to perfection the art of stimulating the natural 
inclinations of a young man hitherto a hermit. As I gazed up at the great 
dome I saw it flushed with the flames and colours of a world of enticement 
unknown to me, my imagination played me a thousand wanton tricks, and 
the forbidden drew me as surely as a loadstone draws on iron. At last my 
resolution was taken, and I boldly asked Lipsius to be my guide. 

He told me to leave the Museum at my usual hour, half -past four, to walk 
slowly along the northern pavement of Great Russell Street, and to wait at 
the corner of the street till I was addressed, and then to obey in all things 
the instructions of the person who came up to me. I carried out these 
directions, and stood at the corner looking about me anxiously, my heart 
beating fast, and my breath coming in gasps. I waited there for some time, 
and had begun to fear I had been made the object of a joke, when I 
suddenly became conscious of a gentleman who was looking at me with 
evident amusement from the opposite pavement of Tottenham Court Road. 
He came over, and raising his hat, politely begged me to follow him, and I 
did so without a word, wondering where we were going, and what was to 
happen. I was taken to a house of quiet and respectable aspect in a street 
lying to the north of Oxford Street, and my guide rang the bell. A servant 
showed us into a large room, quietly furnished, on the ground floor. We sat 
there in silence for some time, and I noticed that the furniture, though 
unpretending, was extremely valuable. There were large oak presses, two 
book-cases of extreme elegance, and in one corner a carved chest which 
must have been mediaeval. Presently Dr Lipsius came in and welcomed me 
with his usual manner, and after some desultory conversation my guide left 
the room. 


Then an elderly man dropped in and began talking to Lipsius, and from 
their conversation I understood that my friend was a dealer in antiques; 
they spoke of the Hittite seal, and of the prospects of further discoveries, 
and later, when two or three more persons joined us, there was an argument 
as to the possibility of a systematic exploration of the pre-Celtic 
monuments in England. I was, in fact, present at an archaeological reception 
of an informal kind; and at nine o'clock, when the antiquaries were gone, I 
stared at Lipsius in a manner that showed I was puzzled, and sought an 

'Now,' he said, 'we will go upstairs.' 

As we passed up the stairs, Lipsius lighting the way with a hand-lamp, I 
heard the sound of a jarring lock and bolts and bars shot on at the front 
door. My guide drew back a baize door and we went down a passage, and I 
began to hear odd sounds, a noise of curious mirth; then he pushed me 
through a second door, and my initiation began. I cannot write down what I 
witnessed that night; I cannot bear to recall what went on in those secret 
rooms fast shuttered and curtained so that no light should escape into the 
quiet street; they gave me red wine to drink, and a woman told me as I 
sipped it that it was wine of the Red Jar that Avallaunius had made. 
Another asked me how I liked the wine of the Fauns, and I heard a dozen 
fantastic names, while the stuff boiled in my veins, and stirred, I think, 
something that had slept within me from the moment I was born. It seemed 
as if my self-consciousness deserted me; I was no longer a thinking agent, 
but at once subject and object; I mingled in the horrible sport, and watched 
the mystery of the Greek groves and fountains enacted before me, saw the 
reeling dance and heard the music calling as I sat beside my mate, and yet I 
was outside it all, and viewed my own part an idle spectator. 

Thus with strange rites they made me drink the cup, and when I woke up in 
the morning I was one of them, and had sworn to be faithful. At first I was 
shown the enticing side of things; I was bidden to enjoy myself and care for 
nothing but pleasure, and Lipsius himself indicated to me as the acutest 
enjoyment the spectacle of the terrors of the unfortunate persons who were 
from time to time decoyed into the evil house. But after a time it was 


pointed out to me that I must take my share in the work, and so I found 
myself compelled to be in my turn a seducer; and thus it is on my 
conscience that I have led many to the depths of the pit. 

One day Lipsius summoned me to his private room, and told me that he had 
a difficult task to give me. He unlocked a drawer and gave me a sheet of 
type- written paper, and bade me read it. 

It was without place, or date, or signature, and ran as follows: - 

Mr James Headley, F.S.A., will receive from his agent in Armenia, on the 
12th inst., a unique coin, the gold Tiberius. It bears on the reverse a faun 
with the legend VICTORIA. It is believed that this coin is of immense 
value. Mr Headley will come up to town to show the coin to his friend, 
Professor Memys, of Chenies Street, Oxford Street, on some date between 
the 13th and the 18th. 

Dr Lipsius chuckled at my face of blank surprise when I laid down this 
singular communication. 

'You will have a good chance of showing your discretion,' he said. 'This is 
not a common case; it requires great management and infinite tact. I am 
sure I wish I had a Panurge in my service, but we will see what you can do.' 

'But is it not a joke?' I asked him. 'How can you know - or rather, how can 
this correspondent of yours know - that a coin has been despatched from 
Armenia to Mr Headley? And how is it possible to fix the period in which 
Mr Headley will take it into his head to come up to town? It seems to me a 
lot of guesswork.' 

'My dear Mr Walters,' he replied, 'we do not deal in guesswork here. It 
would bore you if I went into all these little details, the cogs and wheels, if 
I may say so, which move the machine. Don't you think it is much more 
amusing to sit in front of the house and be astonished than to be behind the 
scenes and see the mechanism? Better tremble at the thunder, believe me, 
than see the man rolling the cannon-ball. But, after all, you needn't bother 


about the how and why; you have your share to do. Of course I shall give 
you full instructions, but a great deal depends on the way the thing is 
carried out. I have often heard very young men maintain that style is 
everything in literature, and I can assure you that the same maxim holds 
good in our far more delicate profession. With us style is absolutely 
everything, and that is why we have friends like yourself.' 

I went away in some perturbation: he had no doubt, designedly left 
everything in mystery, and I did not know what part I should have to play. 
Though I had assisted at scenes of hideous revelry, I was not yet dead to all 
echo of human feeling, and I trembled lest I should receive the order to be 
Mr Headley's executioner. 

A week later, it was on the sixteenth of the month, Dr Lipsius made me a 
sign to come into his room. 

'It is for to-night,' he began. 'Please to attend carefully to what I am going to 
say, Mr Walters, and on peril of your life, for it is a dangerous matter, - on 
peril of your life, I say, follow these instructions to the letter. You 
understand? Well, tonight at about halfpast seven, you will stroll quietly up 
the Hampstead Road till you come to Vincent Street. Turn down here and 
walk along, taking the third turning to your right, which is Lambert 
Terrace. Then follow the terrace, cross the road, and go along Hertford 
Street, and so into Lillington Square. The second turning you will come to 
in the square is called Sheen Street; but in reality it is more a passage 
between blank walls than a street. Whatever you do, take care to be at the 
corner of this street at eight o'clock precisely. You will walk along it, and 
just at the bend where you lose sight of the square you will find an old 
gentleman with a white beard and whiskers. He will in all probability be 
abusing a cabman for having brought him to Sheen Street instead of 
Chenies Street. You will go up to him quietly and offer your services; he 
will tell you where he wants to go, and you will be so courteous as to offer 
to show him the way. I may say that Professor Memys moved into Chenies 
Street a month ago; thus Mr Headley has never been to see him there, and, 
moreover, he is very short-sighted, and knows little of the topography of 
London. Indeed, he has quite lived the life of a learned hermit at Audley 



'Well, need I say more to a man of your intelligence? You will bring him to 
this house, he will ring the bell, and a servant in quiet livery will let him in. 
Then your work will be done, and I am sure done well. You will leave Mr 
Headley at the door, and simply continue your walk, and I shall hope to see 
you the next day. I really don't think there is anything more I can tell you.' 

These minute instructions I took care to carry out to the letter. I confess that 
I walked up the Tottenham Court Road by no means blindly, but with an 
uneasy sense that I was coming to a decisive point in my life. The noise and 
rumour of the crowded pavements were to me but dumb show; I revolved 
again and again in ceaseless iteration the task that had been laid on me, and 
I questioned myself as to the possible results. As I got near the point of 
turning, I asked myself whether danger were not about my steps; the cold 
thought struck me that I was suspected and observed, and every chance 
foot-passenger who gave me a second glance seemed to me an officer of 
police. My time was running out, the sky had darkened, and I hesitated, half 
resolved to go no farther, but to abandon Lipsius and his friends for ever. I 
had almost determined to take this course, when the conviction suddenly 
came to me that the whole thing was a gigantic joke, a fabrication of rank 
improbability. Who could have procured the information about the 
Armenian agent? I asked myself. By what means could Lipsius have known 
the particular day and the very train that Mr Headley was to take? How to 
engage him to enter one special cab amongst the dozens waiting at 
Paddington? I vowed it a mere Milesian tale, and went forward merrily, 
turned down Vincent Street, and threaded out the route that Lipsius had so 
carefully impressed upon me. The various streets he had named were all 
places of silence and an oppressive cheap gentility; it was dark, and I felt 
alone in the musty squares and crescents, where people pattered by at 
intervals, and the shadows were growing blacker. I entered Sheen Street, 
and found it as Lipsius had said, more a passage than a street; it was a 
byway, on one side a low wall and neglected gardens, and grim backs of a 
line of houses, and on the other a timberyard. I turned the corner, and lost 
sight of the square, and then, to my astonishment, I saw the scene of which 
I had been told. A hansom cab had come to a stop beside the pavement, and 


an old man, carrying a handbag, was fiercely abusing the cabman, who sat 
on his perch the image of bewilderment. 

'Yes, but I'm sure you said Sheen Street, and that's where I brought you,' I 
heard him saying as I came up, and the old gentleman boiled in a fury, and 
threatened police and suits at law. 

The sight gave me a shock, and in an instant I resolved to go through with 
it. I strolled on, and without noticing the cabman, lifted my hat politely to 
old Mr Headley. 

'Pardon me, sir,' I said, 'but is there any difficulty? I see you are a traveller; 
perhaps the cabman has made a mistake. Can I direct you?' 

The old fellow turned to me, and I noticed that he snarled and showed his 
teeth like an ill-tempered cur as he spoke. 

'This drunken fool has brought me here,' he said. 'I told him to drive to 
Chenies Street, and he brings me to this infernal place. I won't pay him a 
farthing, and I meant to have given him a handsome sum. I am going to call 
for the police and give him in charge.' 

At this threat the cabman seemed to take alarm; he glanced round, as if to 
make sure that no policeman was in sight, and drove off grumbling loudly, 
and Mr Headley grinned savagely with satisfaction at having saved his fare, 
and put back one and sixpence into his pocket, the 'handsome sum' the 
cabman had lost. 

'My dear sir,' I said, 'I am afraid this piece of stupidity has annoyed you a 
great deal. It is a long way to Chenies Street, and you will have some 
difficulty in finding the place unless you know London pretty well.' 

'I know it very little,' he replied. 'I never come up except on important 
business, and I've never been to Chenies Street in my life.' 


'Really? I should be happy to show you the way. I have been for a stroll, 
and it will not at all inconvenience me to take you to your destination.' 

'I want to go to Professor Memys, at Number 15. It's most annoying to me; 
I'm short-sighted, and I can never make out the numbers on the doors.' 

'This way, if you please,' I said, and we set out. I did not find Mr Headley 
an agreeable man; indeed, he grumbled the whole way. He informed me of 
his name, and I took care to say, 'The well-known antiquary?' and 
thenceforth I was compelled to listen to the history of his complicated 
squabbles with publishers, who had treated him, as he said, disgracefully; 
the man was a chapter in the Irritability of Authors. He told me that he had 
been on the point of making the fortune of several firms, but had been 
compelled to abandon the design owing to their rank ingratitude. Besides 
these ancient histories of wrong, and the more recent misadventure of the 
cabman, he had another grievous complaint to make. As he came along in 
the train, he had been sharpening a pencil, and the sudden jolt of the engine 
as it drew up at a station had driven the penknife against his face, inflicting 
a small triangular wound just on the cheek-bone, which he showed me. He 
denounced the railway company, heaped imprecations on the head of the 
driver, and talked of claiming damages. Thus he grumbled all the way, not 
noticing in the least where he was going; and so unamiable did his conduct 
appear to me, that I began to enjoy the trick I was playing on him. 

Nevertheless, my heart beat a little faster as we turned into the street where 
Lipsius was waiting. A thousand accidents, I thought, might happen; some 
chance might bring one of Headley's friends to meet us; perhaps, though he 
knew not Chenies Street, he might know the street where I was taking him; 
in spite of his short sight, he might possibly make out the number; or, in a 
sudden fit of suspicion, he might make an inquiry of the policeman at the 
corner. Thus every step upon the pavement, as we drew nearer to the goal, 
was to me a pang and a terror, and every approaching passenger carried a 
certain threat of danger. I gulped down my excitement with an effort, and 
made shift to say pretty quietly 'Number 15, 1 think you said? That is the 
third house from this. If you will allow me, I will leave you now; I have 
been delayed a little, and my way lies on the other side of Tottenham Court 



He snarled out some kind of thanks, and I turned my back and walked 
swiftly in the opposite direction. A minute or two later I looked round, and 
saw Mr Headley standing on the doorstep, and then the door opened and he 
went in. For my part, I gave a sigh of relief; I hastened to get away from the 
neighbourhood, and endeavoured to enjoy myself in merry company. The 
whole of the next day I kept away from Lipsius. I felt anxious, but I did not 
know what had happened, or what was happening, and a reasonable regard 
for my own safety told me that I should do well to remain quietly at home. 
My curiosity, however, to learn the end of the odd drama in which I had 
played a part stung me to the quick, and late in the evening I made up my 
mind to see how events had turned out. Lipsius nodded when I came in, and 
asked me if I could give him five minutes' talk. We went into his room, and 
he began to walk up and down, while I sat waiting for him to speak. 

'My dear Mr Walters,' he said at length, 'I congratulate you warmly; your 
work was done in the most thorough and artistic manner. You will go far. 

He went to his escritoire and pressed a secret spring; a drawer flew out, and 
he laid something on the table. It was a gold coin; I took it up and examined 
it eagerly, and read the legend about the figure of the faun. 

'Victoria,' I said, smiling. 

'Yes; it was a great capture, which we owe to you. I had great difficulty in 
persuading Mr Headley that a little mistake had been made; that was how I 
put it. 

'He was very disagreeable, and indeed ungentlemanly, about it; didn't he 
strike you as a very cross old man?' 

I held the coin, admiring the choice and rare design, clear cut as if from the 
mint; and I thought the fine gold glowed and burnt like a lamp. 


'And what finally became of Mr Headley?' I said at last. 

Lipsius smiled, and shrugged his shoulders. 'What on earth does it matter?' 
he said. 'He might be here, or there, or anywhere; but what possible 
consequence could it be? Besides, your question rather surprises me; you 
are an intelligent man, Mr Walters. Just think it over, and I'm sure you 
won't repeat the question.' 

'My dear sir,' I said, 'I hardly think you are treating me fairly. You have 
paid me some handsome compliments on my share in the capture, and I 
naturally wish to know how the matter ended. From what I saw of Mr 
Headley, I should think you must have had some difficulty with him!' 

He gave me no answer for the moment, but began again to walk up and 
down the room, apparently absorbed in thought. 

'Well,' he said at last, 'I suppose there is something in what you say. We are 
certainly indebted to you. I have said that I have a high opinion of your 
intelligence, Mr Walters. Just look here, will you?' 

He opened a door communicating with another room, and pointed. 

There was a great box lying on the floor, a queer, coffin-shaped thing. I 
looked at it, and saw it was a mummy case, like those in the British 
Museum, vividly painted in the brilliant Egyptian colours, with I knew not 
what proclamation of dignity or hopes of life immortal. The mummy 
swathed about in the robes of death was lying within, and the face had been 

'You are going to send this away?' I said, forgetting the question I had put. 

'Yes; I have an order from a local museum. Look a little more closely, Mr 

Puzzled by his manner, I peered into the face, while he held up the lamp. 
The flesh was black with the passing of the centuries; but as I looked I saw 


upon the right cheek bone a small triangular scar, and the secret of the 
mummy flashed upon me: I was looking at the dead body of the man whom 
I had decoyed into that house. There was no thought or design of action in 
my mind. I held the accursed coin in my hand, burning me with a foretaste 
of hell, and I fled as I would have fled from pestilence and death, and 
dashed into the street in blind horror, not knowing where I went. I felt the 
gold coin grasped in my clenched fist, and throwing it away, I knew not 
where, I ran on and on through by-streets and dark ways, till at last I issued 
out into a crowded thoroughfare and checked myself. Then as 
consciousness returned I realized my instant peril, and understood what 
would happen if I fell into the hands of Lipsius. I knew that I had put forth 
my finger to thwart a relentless mechanism rather than a man. My recent 
adventure with the unfortunate Mr Headley had taught me that Lipsius had 
agents in all quarters; and I foresaw that if I fell into his hands, he would 
remain true to his doctrine of style, and cause me to die a death of some 
horrible and ingenious torture. I bent my whole mind to the task of 
outwitting him and his emissaries, three of whom I knew to have proved 
their ability for tracking down persons who for various reasons preferred to 
remain obscure. These servants of Lipsius were two men and a woman, and 
the woman was incomparably the most subtle and the most deadly. Yet I 
considered that I too had some portion of craft, and I took my resolve. 
Since then I have matched myself day by day and hour by hour against the 
ingenuity of Lipsius and his myrmidons. For a time I was successful; 
though they beat furiously after me in the covert of London, I remained 
perdu, and watched with some amusement their frantic efforts to recover 
the scent lost in two or three minutes. Every lure and wile was put forth to 
entice me from my hiding-place; I was informed by the medium of the 
public prints that what I had taken had been recovered, and meetings were 
proposed in which I might hope to gain a great deal without the slightest 
risk. I laughed at their endeavours, and began a little to despise the 
organization I had so dreaded, and ventured more abroad. Not once or 
twice, but several times, I recognized the two men who were charged with 
my capture, and I succeeded in eluding them easily at close quarters; and a 
little hastily I decided that I had nothing to dread, and that my craft was 
greater than theirs. But in the meanwhile, while I congratulated myself on 
my cunning, the third of Lipsius's emissaries was weaving her nets; and in 


an evil hour I paid a visit to an old friend, a literary man named Russell, 
who lived in a quiet street in Bayswater. The woman, as I found out too 
late, a day or two ago, occupied rooms in the same house, and I was 
followed and tracked down. Too late, as I have said, I recognized that I had 
made a fatal mistake, and that I was besieged. Sooner or later I shall find 
myself in the power of an enemy without pity; and so surely as I leave this 
house I shall go to receive doom. I hardly dare to guess how it will at last 
fall upon me; my imagination, always a vivid one, paints to me appalling 
pictures of the unspeakable torture which I shall probably endure; and I 
know that I shall die with Lipsius standing near and gloating over the 
refinements of my suffering and my shame. 

Hours, nay minutes, have become very precious to me. I sometimes pause 
in the midst of anticipating my tortures, to wonder whether even now I 
cannot hit upon some supreme stroke, some design of infinite subtlety, to 
free myself from the toils. But I find that the faculty of combination has left 
me; I am as the scholar in the old myth, deserted by the power which has 
helped me hitherto. I do not know when the supreme moment will come, 
but sooner or later it is inevitable; before long I shall receive sentence, and 
from the sentence to execution will not be long. 

I cannot remain here a prisoner any longer. I shall go out to-night when the 
streets are full of crowds and clamours, and make a last effort to escape. 

It was with profound astonishment that Dyson closed the little book, and 
thought of the strange series of incidents which had brought him into touch 
with the plots and counterplots connected with the Gold Tiberius. He had 
bestowed the coin carefully away, and he shuddered at the bare possibility 
of its place of deposit becoming known to the evil band who seemed to 
possess such extraordinary sources of information. 

It had grown late while he read, and he put the pocket-book away, hoping 
with all his heart that the unhappy Walters might even at the eleventh hour 
escape the doom he dreaded. 



'A wonderful story, as you say, an extraordinary sequence and play of 
coincidence. I confess that your expressions when you first showed me the 
Gold Tiberius were not exaggerated. But do you think that Walters has 
really some fearful fate to dread?' 

T cannot say. Who can presume to predict events when life itself puts on 
the robe of coincidence and plays at drama? Perhaps we have not yet 
reached the last chapter in the queer story. But, look, we are drawing near 
to the verge of London; there are gaps, you see, in the serried ranks of 
brick, and a vision of green fields beyond.' 

Dyson had persuaded the ingenious Mr Phillipps to accompany him on one 
of those aimless walks to which he was himself so addicted. Starting from 
the very heart of London, they had made their way westward through the 
stony avenues, and were now just emerging from the red lines of an 
extreme suburb, and presently the half-finished road ended, a quiet lane 
began, and they were beneath the shade of elm trees. The yellow autumn 
sunlight that had lit up the bare distance of the suburban street now filtered 
down through the boughs; of the trees and shone on the glowing carpet of 
fallen leaves, and the pools of rain glittered and shot back the gleam of 
light. Over all the broad pastures there was peace and the happy rest of 
autumn before the great winds begin, and afar off London lay all vague and 
immense amidst the veiling mist; here and there a distant window catching 
the sun and kindling with fire, and a spire gleaming high, and below the 
streets in shadow, and the turmoil of life, Dyson and Phillipps walked on in 
silence beneath the high hedges, till at a turn of the lane they saw a 
mouldering and ancient gate standing open, and the prospect of a house at 
the end of a moss-grown carriage drive. 

'There is a survival for you,' said Dyson; 'it has come to its last days, I 
imagine. Look how the laurels have grown gaunt and weedy, and black and 
bare beneath; look at the house, covered with yellow wash, and patched 
with green damp. Why, the very notice-board, which informs all and 
singular that the place is to be let, has cracked and half fallen,' 


'Suppose we go in and see it,' said Phillipps; 'I don't think there is anybody 

They turned up the drive, and walked slowly towards this remnant of old 
days. It was a large, straggling house, with curved wings at either end, and 
behind a series of irregular roofs and projections, showing that the place 
had been added to at divers dates; the two wings were roofed in cupola 
fashion, and at one side, as they came nearer, they could see a stableyard, 
and a clock turret with a bell, and the dark masses of gloomy cedars. 
Amidst all the lineaments of dissolution there was but one note of contrast: 
the sun was setting beyond the elm trees; and all the west and south were in 
flames; on the upper windows of the house the glow shone reflected, and it 
seemed as if blood and fire were mingled. Before the yellow front of the 
mansion, stained, as Dyson had remarked, with gangrenous patches, green 
and blackening, stretched what once had been, no doubt, a well-kept lawn, 
but it was now rough and ragged, and nettles and great docks, and all 
manner of coarse weeds, struggled in the places of the flower-beds. The 
urns had fallen from their pillars beside the walk, and lay broken in shards 
upon the ground, and everywhere from grass-plot and path a fungoid 
growth had sprung up and multiplied, and lay dank and slimy like a 
festering sore upon the earth. In the middle of the rank grass of the lawn 
was a desolate fountain; the rim of the basin was crumbling and pulverized 
with decay, and within the water stood stagnant, with green scum for the 
lilies that had once bloomed there; rust had eaten into the bronze flesh of 
the Triton that stood in the middle, and the conch-shell he held was broken. 

'Here,' said Dyson, 'one might moralize over decay and death. Here all the 
stage is decked out with the symbols of dissolution; the cedarn gloom and 
twilight hang heavy around us, and everywhere within the pale dankness 
has found a harbour, and the very air is changed and brought to accord with 
the scene. To me, I confess, this deserted house is as moral as a graveyard, 
and I find something sublime in that lonely Triton, deserted in the midst of 
his water-pool. He is the last of the gods; they have left him, and he 
remembers the sound of water falling on water, and the days that were 


'I like your reflections extremely,' said Phillipps; 'but I may mention that 
the door of the house is open,' 

'Let us go in, then,' 

The door was just ajar, and they passed into the mouldy hall and looked in 
at a room on one side. It was a large room, going far back, and the rich, old, 
red flock paper was peeling from the walls in long strips, and blackened 
with vague patches of rising damp; the ancient clay, the dank reeking earth 
rising up again, and subduing all the work of men's hands after the conquest 
of many years. The floor was thick with the dust of decay, and the painted 
ceiling fading from all gay colours and light fancies of cupids in a career, 
and disfigured with sores of dampness, seemed transmuted into other work. 
No longer the amorini chased one another pleasantly, with limbs that 
sought not to advance, and hands that merely simulated the act of grasping 
at the wreathed flowers; but it appeared some savage burlesque of the old 
careless world and of its cherished conventions, and the dance of the Loves 
had become a Dance of Death; black pustules and festering sores swelled 
and clustered on fair limbs and smiling faces showed corruption, and the 
fairy blood had boiled with the germs of foul disease; it was a parable of 
the leaven working, and worms devouring for a banquet the heart of the 

Strangely, under the painted ceiling, against the decaying walls, two old 
chairs still stood alone, the sole furniture of the empty place. High-backed, 
with curving arms and twisted legs, covered with faded gold leaf, and 
upholstered in tattered damask, they too were a part of the symbolism, and 
struck Dyson with surprise. 'What have we here?' he said. 'Who has sat in 
these chairs? Who, clad in pMrsbloom satin, with lace ruffles and diamond 
buckles, all golden, a conte fleurettes to his companion? Phillipps, we are 
in another age. I wish I had some snuff to offer you, but failing that, I beg 
to offer you a seat, and we will sit and smoke tobacco. A horrid practice, 
but I am no pedant.' 

They sat down on the queer old chairs, and looked out of the dim and grimy 
panes to the ruined lawn, and the fallen urns, and the deserted Triton. 


Presently Dyson ceased his imitation of eighteenth century airs; he no 
longer pulled forward imaginary ruffles, or tapped a ghostly snuff-box. 

'It's a foolish fancy,' he said at last; 'but I keep thinking I hear a noise like 
some one groaning. Listen; no, I can't hear it now. There it is again! Did 
you notice it, Phillipps?' 

'No, I can't say I heard anything. But I believe that old places like this are 
like shells from the shore, ever echoing with noises. The old beams, 
mouldering piecemeal, yield a little and groan; and such a house as this I 
can fancy all resonant at night with voices, the voices of matter so slowly 
and so surely transformed into other shapes, the voice of the worm that 
gnaws at last the very heart of the oak, the voice of stone grinding on stone, 
and the voice of the conquest of Time.' 

They sat still in the old arm-chairs, and grew graver in the musty ancient 
air, the air of a hundred years ago. 

'I don't like the place,' said Phillipps, after a long pause. 'To me it seems as 
if there were a sickly, unwholesome smell about it, a smell of something 

'You are right; there is an evil odour here. I wonder what it is. Hark! Did 
you hear that?' 

A hollow sound, a noise of infinite sadness and infinite pain, broke in upon 
the silence, and the two men looked fearfully at one another, horror, and the 
sense of unknown things, glimmering in their eyes. 

'Come,' said Dyson, 'we must see into this,' and they went into the hall and 
listened in the silence. 

'Do you know,' said Phillipps, 'it seems absurd, but I could almost fancy 
that the smell is that of burning flesh.' 


They went up the hollow-sounding stairs, and the odour became thick and 
noisome, stifling the breath, and a vapour, sickening as the smell of the 
chamber of death, choked them. A door was open, and they entered the 
large upper room, and clung hard to one another, shuddering at the sight 
they saw. 

A naked man was lying on the floor, his arms and legs stretched wide apart, 
and bound to pegs that had been hammered into the boards. The body was 
torn and mutilated in the most hideous fashion, scarred with the marks of 
red-hot irons, a shameful ruin of the human shape. But upon the middle of 
the body a fire of coals was smouldering; the flesh had been burnt through. 
The man was dead, but the smoke of his torment mounted still, a black 

The young man with spectacles,' said Mr Dyson. 


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